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Long Beach CA’s Seamless Schooling Model CAN and SHOULD Be Replicated

November 15, 2015

David Kirp’s op ed article in today’s NYTimes describes the fruitful efforts of Long Beach CA in creating a seamless PreK through College pipeline, a seamless education system that mirrors the kind of approach I believe can and should be replicated across the country. Instead of fretting over scores on standardized tests, Long Beach students focus on ONE test administered in 11th grade:

Every high school junior takes an early assessment exam, which few California districts require. Those who fare poorly get a rigorous dose of English and math, giving them the skills needed to satisfy the state universities’ admissions requirements. Going to college is increasingly on these students’ minds. Last spring they signed up for more than 10,000 advance placement exams, a two-year increase of more than 41 percent. This year’s graduates garnered $96 million in scholarships, $40 million more than in 2012.

The administration of this test is the last step in a process that begins in Pre-Kindergarten where parents learn that if their child meets the admission standards of Long Beach Community College there will be a seat waiting for them. This offer is reinforced in elementary schools:

All fourth and fifth graders, together with their parents, tour the local college campuses. “Most of our parents never thought college was a possibility for their kids,” the Long Beach school superintendent, Christopher Steinhauser, points out. “But those visits can change their minds.”

Not every child takes advantage of this opportunity. The engagement of parents with defeatist attitudes remains a challenge even in a community that has united being the need for children to be assured an opportunity to succeed in higher education. And many students who do begin community colleges fail to complete their coursework. But as Kirp’s concluding paragraphs indicate, the seamless team approach to education IS making a positive difference:

While there’s work to be done — too few of Long Beach’s high school graduates have the credentials that state universities demand, and the community college’s completion rate is still slightly below the state average — each institution keeps getting better. “What we do is surprisingly simple but amazingly powerful,” Ms. Conoley told me. “We communicate all the time. No turf. No bureaucracies. Just building and evaluating programs with the goal of removing barriers and supporting student success.”

The Long Beach collaboration offers a textbook illustration of what business gurus call “continuous improvement.” The willingness of educators, from pre-K to Ph.D., to shelve their egos and do right by the community makes all the difference.

The top-down test-and-punish reform has not yielded these kinds of outcomes… and yet we persist in using that approach. It’s time to use community based teamwork to demonstrate to disaffected parents and students that it IS possible to create a better life for themselves.

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