The national executive director of AVID, a successful college preparatory program for students in the middle, vowed Tuesday to continue a strong operation in California, in spite of Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto last month of $8.1 million in state funding for it.
“It’s going to be painful at times, but we are going to make it work; there is too much at stake not to,” Jim Nelson told 2,700 teachers and counselors, half from California, at the organization’s Summer Institute in Sacramento.
Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, encourages B to C grade students to rise to academic challenges by teaching them study skills and critical thinking, as well as building self-confidence and trust. Now, it will face its own challenge, the biggest since it was founded 32 years ago in a San Diego high school and spread to 48 states. The $8.1 million ran the state AVID center and 11 regional centers whose 55 trainers and coordinators provided support for districts and school sites. Cutting the money won’t necessarily threaten local programs; other states run AVID without regional centers, though none operates AVID on the scale of California. But it will add to districts’ costs and may force each to duplicate services they have depended on county offices of education to offer.
“The regional system was extraordinarily effective. It will be really foolish to shut it down,” said David Gordon, superintendent of the Sacramento Office of Education, a national AVID board member and an advocate of the program when he was superintendent of Elk Grove Unified. He’s worried that smaller districts and some larger districts’ schools will drop the program unless districts and counties continue to work together – an option he will encourage after the regional centers run out of money Dec. 31.
Nelson agreed: “I’d be surprised if we don’t see a reduction in programs in California in 2013-14. Mostly it’s money: Districts are really strapped. Every dollar is committed.” AVID will begin charging districts a several thousand dollar annual fee but will discount the $15,000 it charges to fully train a district AVID director – a cost avoided with a regional system.
Many of the California teachers at the institute this week weren’t aware of Brown’s veto and the resulting organizational shakeup. One who did know was English teacher Frank Kovac, an AVID co-chair at South Tahoe High School. The impact of shifting responsibilities to districts, he said, is that “people who already give a lot in time and energy – somebody like me – are going to be asked to take on another job, pulling us out of the classroom, with fewer hours for students.”
Legislators thought they had protected funding for AVID. Instead of making a separate General Fund appropriation for it, as they had for years, lawmakers made room for it in the Proposition 98 allocation, thereby saving non-education dollars. But Brown killed the money anyway with a line-item veto, following through on a threat he first made in January and dismaying program supporters. They questioned the need for the veto and its timing, shifting one more financial burden to districts, forcing them to make untenable choices.
Nicolas Schweizer, the program budget manager for education in the Department of Finance, wrote in an email that the Administration “believes that, if schools find this program to be useful and a priority for them, they will find ways to continue it. This is consistent with the Administration’s approach to school finance (and just about all governance issues), fewer categorical programs and more discretion and accountability at the local level.” He also insisted that Finance consistently warned that, while the governor opposed continuing a General Fund appropriation for AVID, moving the money inside Proposition 98 remained “problematic.”
Susan Bonilla, who chaired the education subcommittee for the Assembly Finance Committee, said the legislators had been confident that Proposition 98 funding could absorb the addition of AVID in order to preserve “what we believe is a critical program.” If the governor had reservations, he could have scaled back funding instead of eliminating it.
In agreeing with Gov. Brown’s position on AVID, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office noted, “While there is some research that indicates that students enrolled in AVID courses go to college at higher rates than local or national averages, it is unclear whether the results found in some of these studies are attributable to the effects of the program. This is because AVID is only offered to more motivated students, who may possibly otherwise have gone to college at higher rates even without the services offered by the program.”
To which Beth Polito, AVID’s California Division assistant director, responds by quoting a student at Del Campo High School in San Juan Unified, who told State Superintendent Tom Torlakson at a hearing this spring, “I may be self-determined, but without AVID, I am a car without wheels.”
Acceleration, not remediation
About a third of the state’s districts and 1,400 middle and high schools offer AVID to about 150,000 students. They take an AVID elective class, in which they work on writing and study skills for high school, taught by teachers trained at the three-day Summer Institute. Not only the curriculum but also peer support and guidance from college tutors create the determination to pursue college, said Robin Kisinger, the California division director. “AVID is not an intervention program; it’s an acceleration program. It changes the trajectory of students’ expectations.” It targets students who are “kind of bumping along through school without focus. They aren’t taking courses to get them to college,” she said. Many are English learners and minority students who would be the first in their families to attend college.
“AVID teachers are mission driven to get kids qualified for college. They will do whatever it takes: Call at night, intervene with parents,” said Gordon. “Kids feel highly supported by an adult and in a peer group where going to college is cool, not frowned upon.”
Kids like Ashley Root, a senior who has been in Frank Kovac’s AVID class three years. (At South Tahoe, a demonstration AVID site, AVID teachers stick with the same students throughout high school.) With high schools laying off counselors, AVID teachers are sometimes the one personal connection students have with an adult in school.
“Mr. Kovac is a dad for everyone in the class. Everyone goes to talk to him at some point,” Root says. When she’s down on herself, “he tells me I am strong , beautiful, and intelligent. I don’t tell myself that often enough. That has always stuck with me that someone has great confidence in me.”
Data support claims of success. Overall in California, 36 percent of students complete the course requirements, known as A-G, for admission to a four-year state college. For AVID students, it’s 2½ times greater – 89 percent, according to data supplied by AVID. And it’s essentially the same completion rate for all races and ethnic minorities: 89 percent for African American and Hispanic students, 90 percent for whites, and 94 percent for Asians. “There’s no achievement gap for AVID kids,” said Gordon.