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Dr. Howard L. Fuller discusses education at Stand Up monthly meeting

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Accountability in schools and parents’ right to choose were the two solutions to Sacramento’s low education achievement that Howard L. Fuller, founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), former superintendent, educator and education reformer, focused on during his discussion with more than 100 Sacramento community members at the Stand Up Monthly Meeting on Monday.

“How can we tell how our schools are doing when their performance is labeled by a three-digit code nobody understands?” Fuller asked at the opening of his speech, referring to the state’s Academic Performance Index. “We need to give schools grades just like we do our students.”

Fuller extended his discussion from 20 minutes to an hour, filling in for Mayor Kevin Johnson’s absence. The mayor was supposed to deliver his State of the Schools address at the Stand Up meeting before Fuller spoke, but he could not attend due to meetings in Orlando regarding the Kings.

Stand Up is an education initiative that Mayor Kevin Johnson founded in 2009 on the core beliefs that kids come first, great teachers matter, parents deserve choices, government should invest in what works and measuring and rewarding results produces educational success according to an opening message from Stand Up Deputy Director Aisha Lowe.

Stand Up Monthly Meetings are one of the ways that members of the initiative act to increase achievement amongst schools in the Sacramento area, fewer than 42 percent of which met state growth targets last year, in comparison to 57 percent of schools statewide, based on a set of federal indicators called Academic Yearly Performance (AYP), according to the Sacramento County Office of Education.

The AYP targets should increase until 2013-14 when all schools must have 100 percent of their students performing at the proficient level or above on statewide tests, according to the Sacramento Country Childrens’ Coalition.

Fuller argued that making schools accountable is the only way to ensure students receive an excellent education that gives them the four things he deemed essential upon graduation: the ability to go to college, the ability to earn a living wage, the preparation through rigorous training to go back to school if desired and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Parents’ right to choose, otherwise known as school choice, will force not only the creation, but the maintenance of high standards for schools, Fuller said. Charter schools, which benefit from school choice, are educationally innovative, he added.

“At a certain point you have to try something radically different,” Fuller said.

“I’m not against school choice, but I don’t think it is the answer to California’s education problem,” said Martin Carnoy, professor of education at Standford University of school choice in a phone interview Monday. Carnoy is an education reformer familiar with Fuller’s work. “Charter schools are only proven to slightly increase the number of college-goers; they haven’t made any change in student achievement level.”

Real estate tax cuts like Proposition 13 of 1976 are the actual reasons for California’s low-achieving schools, said Carnoy.

At the end of his discussion, Fuller accepted questions from the audience. Questions ranged from how to train teachers of different races to work together to what to do when parents do not participate in their children’s education.

“Dr. Fuller’s answers were very reaffirming and inspiring,” said Jerome Lottie, 28, after-school program leader at the Roberts Family Development Center in Del Paso Heights. “He pushed doing the best you can with students while you have them. I respect the things he said because of his longtime experience and success in education.”

Later, Fuller talked with community members in Underground Books, a bookstore next to The Guild Theater, where the meeting was conducted. Students, parents, teachers and other community members stood in line to speak with Fuller.

“My school claims it is the ‘pride of the city,’ but many students are failing, and other students do bad things outside the classroom,” said Erika Cox, 13, a student at Sutter Middle School, as she waited in line. “My school ignores the problems and pretends they are better than they are.”

Cox asked Fuller how she should fix the things she notices are wrong with her school, like the fact that kids who are failing are given the option of extra help instead of being required to get it.

“What you need to do is what we all need to when we see a problem. You need to create a list of the things you think need to happen to fix your school, gather a group of friends and approach the administration with clear and practical solutions,” Fuller said. “You are going to make some people mad, but you have to be willing to fight for what you believe in.”

“The meeting ran really smoothly despite the last-minute changes,” said Stand Up associate Dana Percoco. “Dr. Fuller was an incredible speaker and had great things to say about education.”

The mayor will deliver his State of the Schools address in the near future according to Stand Up Deputy Director Andrea Corso.

“The mayor regretted having to miss the meeting but wants to be be the one to address the public regarding the state of the school,” Corso added. “He doesn’t want anyone else to do that.” 

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