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Education reform comes at a crucial time, with questions

Created: 08 January, 2010
Updated: 26 July, 2022
4 min read


The future of education, both locally and in the state of California, has received extra special attention the past couple of weeks. The San Diego Unified School District did considering eliminating the position of Superintendent. The California Legislature passed a pair of education reform bills to access $700 million as a part of the “Race to the Top” education initiative. And Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to protect education spending in the next round of budget talks.

Thankfully the San Diego Unified School Board backed away from their half-baked idea of appointing several CEOs to run the school district. There were so many things wrong with this idea that it is hard to determine which was the worst aspect of this idea. We can start with the idea of CEOs running an education institution. This was just another attempt to turn education into the Ford model of assembly line production. This model works well with putting together cars, but fails when it comes to shaping diverse young minds.

Another problem with the idea of CEOs running a school system is the diffusion of power within the organization. To successfully run a school it takes strong and equal representation from the main components: the administrative side of education led by the Superintendent, the community through the election of board members, and representation of the employees and teachers by the unions. When all three are working together toward a common goal, good things come about. By weakening the role of the Superintendent, the balance of power shifts to the two remaining components, the Board and the Unions. Unbalanced power never works.

But probably the biggest problem with the idea of changing the structure of the school district is that this is yet another experiment at the expense of another generation of students. The district already went through the Alan Bersin “Blueprint for Success” experiment that was a dismal failure. What the district does not need is another experiment in particular at a time when test scores are starting to see gains. Thankfully the school board abandoned the education by committee idea and now is in the process of hiring a new Superintendent.

The other major development in education was the passage of two education reform bills this week which give parents the opportunity to transfer their children out of low performing schools to high performing schools and evaluating teachers based on test scores. The main motivation behind the passage of these two bills was the $700 million dollars that will come from the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative. Without passage of these bills the state would not have been eligible to receive the funds.

While the focus of the education reform is commendable, and very similar to the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB), there are still questions. The idea of allowing children to transfer between schools is a part of the NCLB that had little impact:  the “good” schools only have so much space and can’t take all who want to enter. Further, when students leave poor performing schools, there remains less money for that district/school, as education funds are based on attendance. Those poor performing schools will have even fewer resources to improve the education of their students. Why doesn’t the “Race to the Top” put more money into those poor performing and bring them on par with the good schools?

Poor performing schools are concentrated in minority, low income neighborhoods. All of the associated problems with poverty have a profound impact on students’ ability to learn. To judge a teacher based on test scores is inherently unfair to those good teachers where they are needed the most.

Lastly, Governor Schwarzenegger made a commitment to education by vowing not to cut the education budget in 2010 and make higher education a priority by working toward more money being spent on higher education than on prisons. This is a refreshing approach and long overdue. 2010, early on, is shaping up to be the year of Education which we look forward too!

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