Status of Ward Elections Campaign

As I re­ported be­fore, we have a group work­ing on re­form­ing the school dis­trict at a fun­da­men­tal level, pri­mar­ily, at this point, through work­ing to­wards a sys­tem of ward elec­tions for school board mem­bers. Our or­ga­niz­ing ef­fort was dis­tracted some­what by the failed par­cel tax cam­paign, but we are still mov­ing along. The next mile­stone is the com­ple­tion of a pro­posed map for the pe­ti­tion to es­tab­lish ward elec­tions. This should be done by the end of the month. Then I’ll be back with more news.

Article about WCCUSD: “Academic coaches to fill teacher shortage”

This Contra Costa Times ar­ti­cle can be read at one level as my school dis­trict, WCCUSD, tak­ing a com­mon sense ap­proach to a des­per­ate prob­lem of a short­age of teach­ers. The coaches them­selves are a con­tro­ver­sial is­sue. Having teach­ing coaches could the­o­ret­i­cally be a good thing, but in the past these coaches have of­ten acted as ed­u­ca­tion “com­mis­sars” cre­at­ing more an­noy­ance than en­light­en­ment. It’s good to see them ac­tu­ally be­ing put to use­ful work.

The text that leapt out at me, though, was this:

Like other Bay Area school dis­tricts, West Contra Costa has strug­gled to find enough qual­i­fied, cre­den­tialed teach­ers, par­tic­u­larly in math and sci­ence.”

The con­clu­sion some peo­ple will draw from this ar­ti­cle is that teach­ers should be paid more in gen­eral. That may be true, but I also think it’s im­por­tant to break out of the one-size-fits-all salary model for teacher pay. There is an even greater short­age of math and sci­ence teach­ers, so pay them more in bonuses or salary base. This is dif­fer­ent from the merit or per­for­mance pay ideas that are wrongly be­ing con­sid­ered as part of the NCLB re­newal process by the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. This would be a prag­matic mea­sure to fill a gap.

Article: Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus

This re­cent NY Times ar­ti­cle is not di­rectly re­lated to ed­u­ca­tion, but it’s still rel­e­vant be­cause: (1) It high­lights ex­actly how baloney “re­search” truths are con­structed. I par­tic­u­larly like the con­cept of the “cas­cade.” (2) The topic it­self is about one of the newer goals foisted on our pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, a sys­tem so well-known for achiev­ing its pre­vi­ous goals.

NCLB Op-Ed: “Get Congress Out of the Classroom”

One of my fa­vorite writ­ers on ed­u­ca­tion, Diane Ravitch, re­cently had an op-ed pub­lished in the New York Times about the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. What’s in­ter­est­ing in her take on this is to look at part of NCLB’s fail­ure as a fail­ure in how fed­er­al­ism should work. Her sug­ges­tion is to make the fed­eral role one of defin­ing a com­mon base of in­for­ma­tion that the states can use in how they run their own school sys­tems. If states want to adopt the mil­lenar­ian Second Coming ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion, they could do it on their own, but with­out be­ing able to blame the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

School District Has Dress Code, and Is Buying the Uniforms, Too

I have never been much of a fan of school uni­form poli­cies. It re­ally has very lit­tle do with any­thing pro­duc­tive be­ing done in the schools (es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that the the main fo­cus is usu­ally at the el­e­men­tary school level). It’s more a bone to throw to an el­e­ment of par­ents and the pub­lic that looks at schools as a place to fight out some­thing like the Culture Wars. (To me, the de­fin­i­tive guide to this is­sue is The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us about American Education: A Symbolic Crusade — David L. Brunsma.)

One of the stum­bling blocks for school uni­forms is the is­sue of whether it im­poses fi­nan­cial hard­ship on par­ents. In the New Jersey dis­trict de­scribed in this New York Times ar­ti­cle, School District Has Dress Code, and Is Buying the Uniforms, Too, this is­sue has been stood on its head. The School District has turned this ob­sta­cle into a sup­posed ben­e­fit of the pol­icy, not just to man­date a par­tic­u­lar kind of cloth­ing, but to pro­vide the cloth­ing as a perk.

This is a prob­lem at two lev­els. One is­sue is the cost and an­other is­sue is the ap­pro­pri­ate func­tion of school.

The cost is stated as $2 mil­lion so far. At the same time, school au­thor­i­ties blithe­fully as­sure par­ents that “it wasn’t money be­ing taken away from in­struc­tion.” What? This money is be­ing taken from the gen­eral fund for the District. Anything taken out of this fund by de­f­i­n­i­tion can­not be used for any­thing that could be funded like in­struc­tion. What ex­actly would they have done with the $2 mil­lion oth­er­wise? Rebate it to the State of New Jersey or buy TV ads to ex­plain what a great job they are do­ing? In a time when ed­u­ca­tion groups con­stantly com­plain about be­ing un­der­funded, what does some­thing like this say?

The other is­sue con­cerns the func­tion of the school. A school is a spe­cial pur­pose gov­ern­ment agency. Not many peo­ple would con­sider schools as a whole to be com­pletely suc­cess­ful in their more tra­di­tional ed­u­ca­tional role. Scope creep be­yond this is in­ap­pro­pri­ate es­pe­cially when you con­sider the avail­abil­ity of an ex­ist­ing so­cial wel­fare ap­pa­ra­tus ex­tend­ing from the Federal to the County lev­els and on to pri­vate ef­forts. Schools should def­i­nitely co­op­er­ate with these other ser­vices, but the fo­cus for the schools should be on ac­com­plish­ing their spe­cific ed­u­ca­tional goals.

Note: WCCUSD is men­tioned in this ar­ti­cle as spend­ing $49,000 from its bud­get last year.