Community Editorial: La Habra School District Leads the Way

La Habra City School District
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On June 27, the La Habra City School District Board of Education passed by a 5-0 vote a strong resolution to support the Partnership for 21st Century Education (P21).

Board President Sharon Brown stated:

Our superintendent, Susan Belenardo, has been aware of P21 for a couple of years now and has used concepts and materials from the website to help staff focus on and integrate the 4 C’s (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity and Communication) into our curriculum across grade levels and subject areas, especially during this past school year.

This resolution further affirms and supports our ongoing commitment to help prepare all our students for high school, college, careers, and life in an increasingly complex, interconnected global world.

We need to continue to move away from teaching to a multiple choice test to teaching the 4Cs so our kids are truly prepared for the challenges ahead. We need to support our teachers who are creating wonderful project based learning activities that are engaging, relevant and rigorous. Not only is this the type of education that parents, higher education and business leaders want, this is the type of education that America needs if we are to stay competitive.

La Habra is among a few Orange County districts that are taking a proactive stance in anticipating the effects of the New Common Core standards and assessments that are to be implemented beginning this fall and assessed in the spring of 2015.

Many educators are growing concerned that their schools may not be ready. Aside from technology issues, which are huge, there are big questions regarding whether, after over a decade of imposing high stakes multiple choice tests weighted towards math and reading, schools could by 2015 shift to much more rigorous standards and instructional practices that would attempt to prepare more students for “college and career” readiness across the curriculum.

To better prepare schools for this shift, the governor has appropriated $1.25 billion into the educational budget to be spent within two years so that California is ready. Board President Brown stated that it is therefore “vitally important that we send a message to our district that we do not want money spent on teaching to another big test. We want these one-time monies prioritized on the instructional shifts for all teachers in all content areas.”

Over the years, many schools have unfortunately developed policies and practices based on what literacy expert Kelly Gallagher calls WYTIWYG or “witty wig” — i.e., What You Test Is What You Get.

Some districts in the county have disturbingly developed courses of study based on what is tested and when the test occurs. Hence, many students don’t get real science until fifth grade or history until eighth grade. Since world languages, visual and performing arts, health and career technical education classes are not tested, many schools have not offered these courses or have limited offerings and only for higher achieving children.

“We call it the Opportunity Gap,” said Dr. Luis Ortiz-Franco, Los Amigos education chair and mathematics professor at Chapman University.

Children from Latino, low-income and English Learner households are increasingly given a narrowed curriculum so that API (Academic Performance Indicator) test scores will go up. Never mind that these kids who now comprise a majority of Orange County students will not be A-G (UC and CSU college requirements) ready. Never mind that they are dropping out not because of not being interested in going to college but because their experiences are that school is boring and is not really preparing them for college. P21 is a framework that says what’s important is the actual skills and applied knowledge that students need for succeeding as college students and future citizens in today’s society. Los Amigos of Orange County commends La Habra Elementary School District for taking a bold stand for all students.

Let’s hope that the new Common Core assessments do not devolve into the tail wagging the dog and that more districts follow La Habra’s example of making college and career readiness across all content areas for all children the main goal of public education in Orange County and across the nation.

North County educator and community college trustee Michael Matsuda is a member of the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.

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