Big things sometimes come in small packages. That said, it turns out the big "thing" we call educational excellence can come to our San Diego area schools via a small, unique coin.
It certainly takes more than a single coin nowadays to finance public education. Roughly 40 percent of California's general fund is earmarked for education -- even more in good economic times when the state's coffers are full.
The state's continuing financial fiasco, however, has resulted in drastic cutbacks to local schools. The crisis is made all the worse by rising expectations on the part of the public for improved student achievement. What additional financial support may be needed to fund higher achievement must now come to our public schools in new and different ways.
The need to support improved student achievement, however, didn't start with the current financial crisis. For the past 11 years, the Business Roundtable for Education has advocated, designed and sponsored a variety of educational initiatives, all aimed at educational excellence in our region's public schools.
The 150-plus members of the Business Roundtable have financed much in the way of improving student achievement through the work we've done over the past 11 years to identify and promote the best educational practices, establish and help charter schools get started and operate efficiently, open up new programs to stimulate the critical thinking skills young people need in order to become good learners, provide opportunities for internships for high school students to work in summer programs in local businesses, and many more initiatives. Many of these efforts have gone on to become state and national models for success in our schools.
Take our Best Practices program as a chief example. This program showcases the best educational programs and activities being implemented throughout San Diego County. Over the years, Roundtable members and other volunteers have visited, analyzed and reported on dozens of outstanding educational practices in our area's elementary, middle and high schools. Of those, we've assembled the very best practices to showcase at events where the teachers and administrators responsible for developing the practices come and share that program with other educators and business leaders. We've assembled and printed publications in which the best practices are detailed, and sent them to every school district and school in the county -- throughout the entire K-12 learning community in the region.
Yet another initiative the Roundtable has been involved with is providing backpacks in collaboration with the First Five Commission of San Diego, equipped with "starter kits," for preschoolers who come from underserved communities. These kits include crayons, paper and other learning tools that help prepare young people to become effective learners before they enter kindergarten. The factors that influence student achievement begin much earlier in a child's life than one might suppose. Research clearly shows that the factors that influence the capacity to learn are evident and in place well before kindergarten. We need to pay more attention to instilling the capacity to learn in our children at the pre-school age level.
We've invested considerable sums of money in these and other initiatives that are designed to model success in public education. But, more resources are needed and they need to come from a broader scope of people than those who have been directly involved or interested in education. The extent to which our young people graduate from our schools and become literate and productive adults depends on how well our schools prepare them.
That takes us back to the beginning reference to a small coin making a big difference. The Business Roundtable for Education has commissioned the minting of a limited edition 2004 San Diego Education Coin that is being purchased by businesses and individuals, including coin collectors. The coin itself is not being represented as having any special numismatic value; but the coin is valuable in a unique way. Donations from the $3.50 coin will be used to help fund educational excellence through the Best Practices and Early Learning programs described here as well as other Business Roundtable initiatives.
Many businesses have already purchased bulk quantities to give as business and personal gifts heralding their passion as a business for quality education in San Diego. Others are doing so as the holiday season approaches. Additional information and ordering forms are at www.coins4education.com.
What has become abundantly clear are two things: (1) educational reform measures that improve student achievement often must come from outside the public education system, and (2) resources needed for reforms must come from sources over and above the state and federal funding our schools receive.
Buying and giving the San Diego Education Coin to others is a way to let them know you care about education in San Diego, while providing additional resources to specific teachers and programs that we know work and make a difference to all students in San Diego.
To coin a phrase, small things can make a difference in a big way.
Hovenic is president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation and executive director of the Foundation's Business Roundtable for Education. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.