Cal State

1999 Conference on Standards-Based K-12 Education

California State University Northridge

Transcript of Jeff Lee
(edited by the speaker)
biography of speaker


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Mr. Lee: Thank you. Good morning. I'm glad to be here and even more glad to see you here. I'm a parent of two children attending school in the San Diego Unified School District. One child is a 5th grader and the other is a 7th grader. San Diego is the second largest district in the state and 7th largest in the nation with an annual budget of 1.1 Billion dollars.

My wife, Mitzi, and I have been involved in school issues for a number of years since our oldest child entered kindergarten. We worked our way up the chain, first involved at the school site and then progressed to involvement with the school district and with issues at the state level. We also talk to people around the nation. (My biography in the program has the details if you are interested.) We were involved in developing academic standards for our school district and worked hard (and successfully) to get parents on the subject matter committees. Both for reasons of clarity and to input parent's understanding and expectations of what needed to go in the standards -- to have those decisions in the formative stages rather than after the draft standards were presented to the school board. My message today is simple: Parents are the accountability factor in k-12 education. Everybody in this room who is a parent or a grandparent that has or had children in the k-12 system, private or public school, I want you to reach in your wallet and pull out the card they gave you when your child started school. You know, the warranty card that says when your child leaves 12th grade, if you are not satisfied with the results you will get a full refund or you can exchange your student for somebody else's. (Laughter). As we all know, the fact of the matter is there isn't a warranty. If your son or daughter leaves grade 12 and doesn't have the academic knowledge and academic skills they need to succeed in the world after grade 12, it's too late. Parents need to know up front that the system is delivering a quality education to their child, as well as delivering a quality education to the child sitting next to their child in class because they will live together in the same world.

So the question I pose, when you leave here and go back to your school district, ask whether the parent involvement model in use views parents as change agents to make things better or does it view parents as supporters of the status quo?

The model we see most in use is the Epstein model. The Epstein model talks about involvement at several levels such as involvement in the home getting the child ready for school, parents in the classroom helping the teacher, and involvement in schoolwide parent organizations and school site governance.

If you step back and look at that model, you come to understand that it is based on the premise that the school is succeeding -- that there is a good curriculum in place and quality teaching and learning is taking place. In fact if you ask Dr. Epstein she will tell you that the most learning takes place with good quality teaching in the classroom and that the parent involvement stuff is tinkering about on the edges. I don't know your school or district, but I have seen the test scores for lots of schools and I have visited lots of schools. If the children aren't learning in the classroom, then how do you change that and make it better? There is a lot of money being allocated to fund parent involvement. But if it's being used to train parents to support the status quo, we won't get what we need. In the public education system, parents are the accountability factor. The outcome they seek from the system is that their child receive a quality education. Parents can ask for things and press for things that those working in the system cannot and often do not ask for. Teachers may have concerns about speaking out. Principals don't always speak out or ask for what they need for the school. Principals and teachers are there to execute the policies of the school board and the state mandates. Parents have a vital and nondelegable role -- I'll go back to what Marianne said. Parents need to be involved with policy development at the district and the state level. They need to make their views known and ask the tough questions.

Now, the key to being effective in creating change is knowing the right questions to ask and then asking the right questions. Parents have to be able to spot the problem and be able to work towards a reasonable solution to make sure it's fixed.

In our organization, the Alliance for Quality Education, AQE, we call it the 3 R's. Recognize, react, resolve. Recognize there is a problem, react to it and work at it until it is resolved. As one of the other speakers mentioned, you have to be vigilant. Just because you figured out what isn't right, it doesn't mean that it will be fixed. If good information and clear knowledge about a problem was enough to change human behavior, nobody would be smoking cigarettes today. We know there are things out there that are harmful and don't do good things for us yet people still do them. Human behavior is hard to change. That is the crux of the education reform issue.

How do you change the system? Without getting into great detail on systems theory, you should understand that the education system is a system made of interconnecting, interrelating and interacting actors and processes. (If they weren't interconnecting, interrelating and interacting they wouldn't be a system and would act independent of each other.) Together, the actors and processes stabilize at a self-defined equilibrium. If a system has a weak equilibrium, it's easy to change and the system dissipates or realigns itself in response to the change stimulus. The stronger the equilibrium the tougher it is to change it. The school system is very stable and has a strong equilibrium. It operates the way it does because it meets the needs of certain groups. There were two quotes laid out yesterday I thought were interesting and they really talked to the heart of the matter. One of the speakers said it will take 30 years to turn around this "cruise liner" called public education in California. I have heard the same time frame for change offered by different sources. Change is difficult for large organizations. Yet, I heard an effective teacher say "if you give me the right materials I can teach a child to read in 3 months". And, of course, once you have taught that child to read they become a go getter. Think about that. 30 Years versus 3 months. So, how do you induce change? This is where parents come in. If you get the right materials in the classroom (based on the standards) and the right training, the right policies implemented correctly, the right support, the right this and the right that then the child will learn. If you are teaching a child will learn. That's what children do. That's the human process. When we get all the necessary ingredients into the classroom good things will happen. There is a big difference between having a good policy and implementing that policy. We have lots of good policies, but the implementation is lacking. Teachers and parents are natural allies. Teachers want their students to learn and parents want their children to learn. What we (AQE) try to do is to help parents, teachers, community members and business leaders develop an independent ability to assess the effectiveness of their neighborhood school and local school districtÖand how to act effectively and work together for the common purpose of transforming public education so that every child receives a quality education. In closing, allow me to share with you my recommend reading list "top 5" books. These are books that are useful in understanding how the system works and what is achievable when we do things the right way.

(1) "Transforming America's Schools -- An Administrator's Call to Action" by John Murphy and Jeffrey Schiller.

(2) "The Schools We Need & Why We Don't Have Them" by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

(3) "The Logic of Failure" by Dietrich Dörner.

(4) "Reaching for a Better Standard" by Thomas A. Wilson.

(5) "The Third International Mathematics and Science Study" available on the internet at

Thank you very much. (Applause).

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Contact the organizers

Postal and telephone information:

1999 Conference on Standards-Based K12 Education

College of Science and Mathematics

California State University Northridge

18111 Nordhoff St.

Northridge CA 91330-8235

Telephone: (Dr. Klein: 818-677-7792)

FAX: 818-677-3634 (Attn: David Klein)