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‘Now is the time’ — Pepperdine gathers education policy voices to foster collaboration

Sarah Favot | October 10, 2017



“If ever there was a time to talk about collaboration, now is the time.”  

— Ryan J. Smith, executive director, The Education Trust-West

Collaboration was the theme and aim of Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy’s first education conference, held Friday at the Malibu campus. The event brought together education policy leaders from Los Angeles and the state to discuss ways different stakeholders could join together for the benefit of public schoolchildren.

Hanna Skandera, New Mexico’s former secretary of education and an alumna of the Pepperdine graduate program, gave the keynote address outlining what led to the academic advancements in New Mexico as well as the lessons she learned over her six-and-a-half-year term.

“What gets measured gets done,” was one her success strategies in New Mexico, but Skandera said too often education leaders are focused on measurements and don’t get to why they are measuring.

“Once you know where you’re at, what are you going to do about it?”

Skandera said she felt “uneasiness” as she looked at California’s new accountability system, the school Dashboard, which is a color-coded grid that evaluates schools based on various measures in addition to test scores that some advocates have said is too complicated to understand.

“I do think we should have multiple measures, but I’m a big fan of finalizing with what I call a summative rating, meaning a simple, at the end, roll it up what does this mean?”

New Mexico has a school grading system that uses multiple measures but gives schools an A-F letter grade. Skandera said she believes in this grading system because parents said they could understand how their school was doing if it was given a letter grade.

She said Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula — which gives more money to districts that have more students who are from low-income families, English-language learners, and foster youth — is a “huge step in the right direction.” But she said legislation does not change hearts and minds, but it is an opportunity.

“Until we have the people in that mix the Local (Control) Funding Formula opportunity, equality for students we won’t accomplish what a great step in the right direction California has taken.”

• Read more from The 74: New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera on How Her State Is Turning Around Schools

Skandera said one mistake she made was not going directly to teachers. She said she regrets that she bought into the traditional system of communication that if she told superintendents something, superintendents would tell principals, principals would tell teachers, and teachers would tell parents.

“Let me just be clear, that is the worst game of telephone ever,” she said.

Later in her tenure, she formed a teacher advisory cabinet of 20 teachers to give them a voice on policy issues.

“These teachers – 20 teachers – changed the game of education in New Mexico.” Now there is a teacher in every school in the state who has access to the advisory group.

• Watch Hanna Skandera’s keynote address and the first panel here

The conference’s first panel, moderated by KPCC education reporter Kyle Stokes, included Ama Nyamekye, executive director of Educators for Excellence Los Angeles; David Rattray, executive vice president at LA Area Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Education Excellence & Talent Development; John Rogers, UCLA education professor; Marshall Tuck, candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, and Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.

Much of the discussion in that panel was on whether different stakeholders can work with state legislators to lengthen the amount of time it takes for teachers to receive tenure. Several attempts have been made — and failed — to change teacher tenure laws.

The second panel focused on areas of collaboration in Los Angeles. It was moderated by LA School Report’s Executive Editor Laura Greanias and included Elise Buik, United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ president and CEO; UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl; Frances Gipson, LA Unified’s chief academic officer; Hattie Mitchell, co-founder and CEO of Crete Academy, and Ryan J. Smith, executive director of The Education Trust-West.

Hattie Mitchell, co-founder and CEO, Crete Academy

Gipson pointed to the United Way as an example of collaboration in LA, and Buik described how the city and county came together around homelessness. A decade ago the two entities weren’t collaborating, she said, but this year two historic ballot measures were passed to raise taxes to fund initiatives for housing for the homeless.

Caputo-Pearl declined to say how the union could collaborate to ensure that the district remains fiscally solvent without relying on whether it gets more state and federal funding.

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

“If we take it off the table, then we are acknowledging that the public district system is going to go off a fiscal cliff, which I’m not willing to acknowledge,” he said.

UTLA has started a campaign called “20 by 20,” which calls for $20,000 in per pupil funding by 2020. The state now gives districts about $12,000 in per pupil funding, he said.

The union leader also called on the state to limit the growth of charter schools, where teachers are generally not unionized.

Mitchell, whose newly opened charter school serves students who are homeless and living in poverty, said, “I disagree with Alex, the answer of sustainability is not to close down charters. It’s to close down poor performing schools. Some of those will be charters, and others will be district schools,” said Mitchell, who graduated from Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy. “Charters have challenged the status quo and will continue to do so.”

• Read more about Crete Academy from EdSource: Inspired by Skid Row, educator opening charter to help LA’s homeless children and families

Smith said along with the conversation about increasing spending should be a discussion about accountability.

“If we believe that the public is going to continue to invest in public schools, we have to have accountability that those dollars are being invested to help students,” he said.

Evelyn Aleman co-hosted the Pepperdine conference. (Photo: Joe Macias)

The panelists were asked what piece of data they would like to have that they don’t.

Gipson said she would like “student voice.”

Buik said she would like to bring back the parent report card.

Smith said he would like to disaggregate student achievement data for students who are part of the Asian ethnic group, so students within that demographic can get more support.

Caputo-Pearl said the union has had to jump through hoops without success to get “basic data from charter schools.” He said he’d like for all public schools to have to adhere to the same standards around data reporting.

Ryan J. Smith, executive director, The Education Trust-West

“Let’s not focus on the 30 percent of things we don’t agree on, but the 70 percent of things that education reformers, education advocates, teachers, parents, students, administrators absolutely agree on and I believe now is the time to create that agenda,” Smith said.

In closing, Pete Peterson, the dean of the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, said, “We are deeply concerned about the state of education. But we are committed to being that convening place of the conversation around these very difficult, and yes, contentious issues, because we believe in our hearts, that … an issue like this is really about kids.”

Evelyn Aleman, a public affairs specialist and parent advocate, said, “I proposed and co-hosted the event because I believe that we are at the point where we need to get to collaboration. We need to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us — for our kids.”

• Watch the second panel discussion here

• Read more from LA School Report: Ed Trust’s Ryan Smith explains ‘The California Way’ in education

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