September 24, 2004

Ball Foundation changing the face of Education in Chula Vista?

By J.D. Hawk

Mention the Ball Foundation to Chula Vista Elementary School District administrators and they like it just fine, but find it difficult to quantify. Mention it to teachers and you get mixed reviews. Principals, most like it but there are some who want nothing to do with it. Parents, those involved with their school site decision making process know about it and most support it but are unsure just exactly what it is.

What is the Ball Foundation and what is its role with the Chula Vista Elementary schools and the children, in particular to the low-income and Hispanic children of the district? For many parents this question is being asked more and more over the past four years as the Ball Foundation program becomes more ingrained and a part of the every day educational process.

The Ball program is now in 22 schools, over half of the schools in the district, and are concentrated in schools that are low-income, English language learner, Hispanic communities and represents fundamental changes in the way teachers teach and how minority, English language learners, learn.

The Ball program has been slowly introduced on a school by school basis, facilitated by a full time district administrator. While over half of the 39 schools in the district are incorporating this program, reflecting a district wide change in the education of the children, the Ball Foundation philosophies, goals and direction of the district of has never been introduced or discussed on a district wide platform and has not been presented to the parents as a change in the district’s philosophical answer to teaching low-income, English language learners.

So what is the Ball Foundation?

The Ball Foundation is a private foundation established in 1975 by G. Carl Ball and his wife Vivian Elledge Ball. G. Carl Ball is past President and Chairman of the Board of Geo. J. Ball, Inc., a horticultural company headquartered in West Chicago, Illinois. Beginning in the early 1990s, the foundation expanded, as with many corporations, its’ focus to K-12 education and developed their “Education Initiatives” philosophy.

At a June 2004 meeting, the Ball Foundation Board of Directors adopted a new vision, mission, and goals for Education Initiatives including an updated theory of change.

For Chula Vista Parents they first heard of Ball when then Superintendent Libia Gil introduced Ball’s charter school program to the district in 1998. At that time their goal was to create a consortium of schools which would then become Ball Charter Schools. The idea was to take a minimum of five schools from the Westside of Chula, ostensibly from the low-income, Hispanic dominated schools and convert them. This was met with skepticism. For the parents the biggest question was why five schools? For the teachers this was viewed as a union busting move.

The Ball Charter School effort failed. The Ball Foundation then came back in 2001 with the Community of Schools Initiative, which championed Education Initiatives, partnering with six schools; Casillas, Chula Vista Hills, Chula Vista Learning Community Charter; Eastlake, and Tiffany, to start.

According to the Ball website they describe the educational problem as: “The vitality of public education in the United States is threatened by two parallel achievement gaps. One gap exists in the performance levels of student populations viewed with respect to race and income. Low-income children, children of color, and English language learners, whose populations are concentrated in urban and some rural school districts, represent the largest percentage of the underachieving population. In contrast, middle-class white children, who are predominantly found in suburban schools, tend to perform better.

“The second gap exists in the productivity of schools and school districts. In America’s schools and districts, there are isolated islands of excellence, places that have exhibited the ability to achieve academic excellence and equity for increasing numbers of students. Despite these examples, the vast majority of schools and districts remain under-productive.”

At the heart of The Ball Foundation are their beliefs in which they spell out their program as in (1) Relationship Building “through partnerships we establish relationships that promote systemic transformation.” (2) Collaborative Learning. (3) Whole System Approach in which the Ball Foundation “believes that the approach taken to achieve educational transformation must be systemic and cannot be programmatic or piecemeal.” (4) Educators as Transformational Leaders.

Within these beliefs the Foundation advocates for a complete change in the way education is delivered. Denise Doyle, assistant superintendent, says that, that description is misleading and that the individual schools determine their focus and incorporate the “best practices” philosophies in education found at other schools and from other districts.

But when asked how do you gauge the success or failure of the program? Doyle replied “you can’t always test for intelligence.”

This logic though, flies in the face of today’s reality, when education is based on accountability, test scores with the repercussion of low scores result in teacher transfers/firings and can escalate to schools be taken over under the No Child Left Behind legislation.

Within a school district that values and promotes shared decision making there is very little conversation about the overall program and in particular how this change in philosophy will improve the education of Hispanic children.

According to Daniel Munoz who was a part of the School Site Council at Hilltop Elementary School described the situation as having very little discussion in the adoption of the Ball Foundation at his school.

“As a member of the School Site Council (SSC) it was our responsibility to determine the focus of the school. At that time we were focusing on literacy and technology, working to ensure that every classroom had adequate computers and support. At that time (2001) Hilltop was one of the better schools in the district with their API at 751 which ranked the school pretty high within the district, and we felt that with added technology and the continued emphasis on literacy we were headed in the right direction. Our biggest obstacle was the lack of funds at the school to pursue our goals.

“Towards the end of the 2001 school year, we received a packet for the next SSC meeting and listed among the items to be considered for action was the Ball Foundation. There was very little debate about the issue and we were pretty much told the teachers had voted to adopt the program. With the Principal strongly supporting the program and with the teachers already on board the School Site Council deferred to the educators and voted the Ball Foundation in, this after less than a 15 minutes discussion. For all intents and purpose it was a de facto vote.”

In talking with school administrators and with teachers there appears to be two distinct perspectives on the implementation of Ball. School administrators tout the fact that this program is site based and that teachers want the program, a bottom up decision. Teachers that have questioned the necessity of implementing the Ball program say that the Ball is a top down decision making proposition.

According to Terry Williams, a recently retired teacher at Rice Comer Elementary School, they initially voted down the Ball program but they then had to vote for the program twice more until the teachers finally voted the Ball Foundation in.

The lure for the schools is the promise of $15,000 for each school to spend. For Hilltop Elementary this was a pretty strong lure. This school was between a rock and a hard spot when it came to money. Because Hilltop was doing well in regards to testing and the fact that their school population had not a yet reached Title I status, they were receiving the bare minimum in funding. This meant they had no money for extras such as computers, conferences, and a very limited number of teacher training during the year.

At Hilltop the $15,000 bought books for the school. This was the upside.

To achieve the systemic change teachers needed to be reeducated! This meant that teachers were to attend teaching seminars, subs needed to be hired, new materials needed to be bought, principals, teachers and superintendents traveled to Illinois, and consultants were brought on board.

At Chula Vista Hills, one of the early Ball Foundation schools, the proposed budget appeared to reflect a target of $57,000 for their Ball Project for the 2001-2002 school year, of which the Ball Foundation would fund $15,000 leaving the school with roughly $42,000 to fund from the school budget.

According to Leslie Wolf, Curriculum director explains the expenditure of monies as part of the overall school focus. “For example a school focus may be writing and the school may use their Ball money in this area. And, because their focus, schoolwide, is writing then they may do other things outside of Ball that their school was going to do anyway and use their SIP, or ELL monies on other writing focus expenses.”

The Denise Doyle and Leslie Wolf both expressed belief and feel that the Ball program has been a success. But according to the API test for the district Doyle indicated that the scores have flattened out. At Hilltop Elementary the school went from an API high of 751 in 2001 to an API of 715 in 2004 a 36 point drop in their overall test score.

Two things are clear there are more questions than answers. Is the Ball Foundation program for change the most effective way of teaching our English language learners and an effective use of school dollars?

For more information on the Ball Foundation you can visit their web site at: http://www.ballfoundation.org/default.htm

You can contact your school for more information or district Superintendent Lowell J. Billings at 619-425-9600 x1300

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