Nightmare of School Reform

     Mark Twain once quipped, "God made the idiot for practice, and then he made the school board."
     Twain must have been anticipating Hayward Unified's Board. I thought its lunacy had reached its zenith two years ago when school trustees abruptly fired ten principals, giving no explanation--thus completely usurping the authority, experience and wisdom of the superintendent the trustees themselves had appointed.
     Although the board eventually rescinded most of the firings, the superintendent soon resigned. One of the dismissed principals fled to another district and was quickly promoted to director. Another my district snatched up, recognizing a great educator when we saw him.
     Poor Hayward!
     Unfortunately, I was wrong about that being the board's worst moment. The trustees have since descended into inane bickering, finger-pointing and name-calling (making for highly entertaining cable TV viewing), culminating September 22nd when the board's president ordered a security guard to remove another trustee from the chamber. The latter immediately returned, stating he would not leave unless he were arrested. The police didn't know what to do.
     We do. Indeed, although the governor's, senator's and several propositions' races have taken the limelight, an equally consequential decision in November may be our choice for school board trustees.
     Frankly, and sadly, Hayward's school board is only an exaggerated example of some of the shenanigans taking place in many other districts everywhere.
     The Radical Religious Right, for example, has long taken advantage of the public's usual apathy regarding school boards to both get its members elected, and to coerce boards when it can't. It's even published a step-by-step manual, Reclaim Your School: Ten Strategies to Practically and Legally Evangelize Your School (Pacific Justice Institute, 2002). Page 21 is particularly enlightening: "The Big Lie: Separation of Church and State."
     It behooves us all to pay close attention to the impending school board elections; and to remember that a candidate's name, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religious beliefs are no guarantee that he or she will be a wise trustee or not. Let's choose carefully this November.
     U. S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan's call to publish teachers' standardized test scores has born its first fruit. (Students take the tests, of course; but their individual scores ceased to matter with the launching of No Child Left Behind nine years ago. Now the tests serve only to lambaste schools and teachers.)
     Duncan wants parents to know teachers' individual test scores in order to expose and get rid of the legions of lazy, incompetent public school educators; and, perhaps especially, to promote his pets, charter schools. 
     Well, The Los Angeles Times took Duncan at his word. The Times posted on its website its analysis of seven years of student standardized test data, focusing on how kids' performance had improved, and rating teachers accordingly.
     The Times rated fifth grade teacher Rigoberto Ruelas "less effective."
     Its analysis did not take into account the fact that Ruelas consistently reached out to the toughest kids in his school's gang-ridden neighborhood of South LA. He tutored them after school and on weekends, visited them often at their homes, and always encouraged them to set their sights on college. During his 14 years teaching , he'd had almost perfect attendance.
     None of that mattered. The Times determined Ruelas to be "less effective." He subsequently committed suicide.
     We can only imagine the scores of better teachers vying to take his place.
     When will this nightmare of "school reform" end? For the first time in my 28-year career, I've stopped encouraging my students to become teachers.

Published October 25, 2010, in The Argus and The Daily Review (Bay Area News Group) 

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