Geography shouldn’t be destiny and won’t with Student Bill of Rights

By David Haglund.
December 5, 2011 | Thoughts on Public Education

In his biography of Steve Jobs, author Walter Isaacson recounts an interesting story about Steve’s first days at a low-income middle school in Mountain View. Early on, confronted with violence, overcrowding, and poor instruction, he threatened to drop out. His parents scraped together enough money to buy a house just three miles away on the other side of the district boundary, which meant that Jobs could attend a school in a more affluent neighborhood with better educational opportunities. Other kids have not been so lucky.

It may surprise you to learn that nearly one million high school students in California attend schools that do not offer sufficient numbers of “A-G” courses (those required for admission to state colleges and universities. This inequity, highest in low-income and minority areas of the state, is quickly becoming a 21st-Century civil rights issue. State data indicates that Latino and African American students graduate high school, complete A-G courses, and go to college at rates significantly below the statewide average. California’s existing public education system includes barriers that prevent students from attending schools or taking courses outside of their district of residence, resulting in a geographic factor essentially determining their educational opportunity. These families simply do not have the opportunity afforded to the Jobs family, who could afford the cost of a move.

The California Student Bill of Rights Initiative, a project of Education Forward, seeks to remedy this inequity in access through an initiative slated for the November 2012 ballot. The proposition addresses this problem directly by utilizing information and communications technologies to break down the barriers between students and educational opportunities. Under this proposed law, students will be provided unrestricted access to all of the courses required for college entrance, including those offered within their own school district, at a community college, or through approved and accredited online schools.

Forty-five years after the Jobs family moved to pursue a better education for their son, the world has been transformed by technology that Steve envisioned. Innovators like Jobs have fundamentally changed the way the world does business – how we communicate, shop, and learn. It is time for the California public education system to step up and engage new learners in ways that are meaningful and relevant to them.

Several years ago, the emergence of new information and communication technologies prompted me to engage teachers, students, and parents in an ongoing conversation to think differently about where and how learning takes place. Over time, our concepts of school, classroom, teaching, and learning have been challenged and our thinking reshaped. We have begun to introduce new learning models into the system. Many of those ideas can be seen at work in the Riverside Virtual School, which has emerged as a model blended learning program in California. Students at RVS come onto campus to participate in meaningful learning activities as they are called for in the curriculum or recommended by the instructors. Student learning needs drive the design of each individual student’s educational program. Consequently, no two student schedules are the same. These new personalized school models have resulted in significant expansion of blended learning on comprehensive school campuses in Riverside and elsewhere via the California Open Campus.

This consortium of school district leaders acknowledges the changing environment and has begun the process of transformation that will reach across organizations and into the homes of our families. We acknowledge that the economy is struggling and that we simply cannot do what we have always done. We must find ways to become more efficient while at the same time increasing our effectiveness in raising student achievement. We accept the understanding that we live in a different world than the one we grew up in – one in which digital natives rely on digital immigrants to understand their new learning styles and academic needs. We feel an obligation to become adept at change and do things differently until we are able to achieve the outcomes expected of us. Consider joining us in this endeavor and move Education Forward.

With the passage of the California Student Bill of Rights, California will be one step closer to ensuring educational equality across demographic, economic, and geographic boundaries. We will be one step closer to giving our kids the chance they deserve to succeed in the highly competitive 21st century global economy. Who knows how many “Steve Jobses” are out there waiting for us to help, and what they will bring given the opportunity to succeed.

Dr. David Haglund is the Director of Educational Options in Riverside Unified School District and oversees several non-traditional schools including one of California’s premier online school programs, the Riverside Virtual School. In addition to his state and national advocacy roles promoting blended and online learning, Haglund serves as the chair of Education Forward ( the leading proponent of the California Student Bill of Rights. Follow him on Twitter @hagdogusc.
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Paid for by the California Student Bill of Rights Committee, a project of Education Forward