Gesturing dramatically over a stack of paperwork at a Ventura coffee shop, Monique Dollonne looks like a woman fretting over the details of her next power-point presentation or the college papers she’s tasked with grading.
But Dollonne, a native of France who’s called the United States home for more than two decades, isn’t a college professor or type-A executive. She’s just a mom on a mission — and she’s got her work cut out for her.
Dollonne and others like her might be teetering on the precipice of a movement that could eventually — with the same methodical pressure water uses at it changes the shape of stones over time — overhaul California’s public school system.
Dollonne and her cohorts, who are in the process of forming the Coalition for Accountability in Education, believe there is a lack of accountability in public schools when it comes to getting students what they need — and a lack of fessing up to failures when they do happen. “How does the public understand, when looking at a school to put your child in, if the children are being properly served and if they have the programs children need? People trust the leaders and the system, and we have to stop trusting.”
Dollonne first became concerned about the quality of education her daughter was receiving when her daughter entered the second grade at a Ventura grammar school. It was then that she first became aware of API, or Academic Performance Index, scores culled from standardized testing; and AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress, reports. API testing occurs at all public schools, and those scores are factored into AYP reports, which are part of the No Child Left Behind act.
Dollonne was unimpressed with the scores at her daughter’s school and, upon close examination, felt that the real meanings behind the scores were lost on parents who didn’t take the time to understand what they meant. For instance, Dollonne said, API scores are calculated according to different academic indicators, but those indicators can change from year to year, which Dollonne said makes it difficult to determine if progress is being made.
“What do we do about it?” Dollonne asks from over a stack of test scores and newspaper articles. “How do we reform the system? Is it reformable?”
Dollonne’s doubt is reflected by the general public, if a recent survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California is any indication. A survey released last month shows that 58 percent of Californians surveyed think the current quality of education is a “big problem.” That figure is the highest in any year since the 1998 launch of the PPIC Statewide Survey.
Additionally, 64 percent of residents and 60 percent of “likely voters” think income tax for affluent Californians should be raised to fund education, according to the PPIC; 87 percent of African Americans are “very concerned about high school drop-out rates, a “much higher percentage than in any other group.” The PPIC reports that 59 percent of Latinos, 51 percent of Asians and 50 percent of whites are very concerned about drop-out rates.
A recent report by the Associated Press revealed that almost two million students were not counted when schools reported yearly progress by various groups according to race and in line with the No Child Left Behind act. The AP discovered that roughly 1.9 million students, which equates to about one student in every 14 test scores, were not properly counted, according to the AP as published in The Washington Post.
Dollonne and the coalition are focused on, among other things, exploring the truth about test scores and about where education funding goes. “We want to find out if our schools are getting support they need, where our funding is going and why we’re losing good teachers,” Dollonne said. “The solution is that we have to change things. We have to do something.”
Jill Parish, founder and executive director of the Parent Advocacy Group, a non-partisan and non-profit group based in Westlake Village, started her organization as a means of “providing hope and a voice to parents, by helping them protect the rights of their children while helping to improve the quality of our public education.”
The coalition has 25 affiliates working statewide with parents and community members. In Ventura County, the chapter has 10 committee leaders and close to 800 on the local email list. “We decided to join efforts to help parents who are looking for the same thing: answers,” Dollonne said.