Are we crazy or what? It costs the state of California more than $225,000 to incarcerate one youth in the Department of Juvenile Justice system per year, yet we are only compensating school districts about $7,000 per year to educate a student.
On Saturday I was attending a BBQ at the home of a good friend who happens to be a high school principal. Several of the invitees were educators, too. There were district office administrators, other principals, some teachers, and a group of non-educators. As the evening moved on there were several discussions that targeted on the deficiencies and strengths of the public school system.
At one time after the main course was served I said I am writing a book on why public schools will always SUCK…many of those attending gasped at my impolitic expression. They disagreed vehemently with the assertion in the proposed title. The title is meant to get reaction and promote a discussion. That it did…
Yet, after considerable dialogue there was a consensus that the public school system is broken. We all agreed that there are some great schools doing great things instructionally for all their students. We concurred with each other that there are many fantastic teachers that work tirelessly to see all children succeed. We also were in concert about the belief that we are mired in a historically significant time for public schools and their ultimate survival.
Here are some other points of agreement with surprising unanimity from our gang of nine educators:
The Race to the Top is too top-down. The new Elementary and Secondary Education Act proposed legislation to take the place of No Child Left Behind is too much like No Child Left Behind.
Performance pay for the best teachers is a good idea as long as the process to determine the “best” is collaborative with the teachers’ union. We discussed Superintendent Michelle Rhee’s new model in Washington D.C. that was the subject of a June 14th New York Times editorial. The model is where new teachers choose a traditional salary schedule model toping out in 20 years at $106,000 or a performance-based system where teachers who are exemplary based on a rigorous evaluation system can earn $140,000 in less than 20 years.
Teacher unions need to help management with dismissal of ineffective teachers as expeditiously as possible with appropriate due process. That is the case in the new contract just negotiated in Washington D.C. Our local school boards and superintendents should study the collaborative work done in Washington D.C. and try to replicate it with union approbation here in Silicon Valley, the home of innovation.
Santa Clara County school districts need to be consolidated to eliminate redundancy of district office cost. It was unanimous with the BBQ gang of nine that we should begin this quest with Luther Burbank and Orchard School Districts within the perimeters of the electoral process. We now have 32 school districts in this county. In a previous San Jose Inside column I promoted four approximately 30,000-student school districts in San Jose instead of the current 19. San Jose Unified currently has nearly 33,000 students. This topic has been before the civil grand jury for which I was invited to testify earlier this year.
The curriculum must be rigorous and relevant, include career technical education, and art and music for all.
We all agreed that if we all get together 25 years from now for another BBQ we will still be talking about the achievement gap and how it has remained an intractable problem. However, we agreed it is more threatening to our social and economic fabric in 2035 than in 2010 due to the rapidly changing U.S. demographics. Therefore, we must get serious about its elimination. The efforts being made by SJ2020 are a hopeful sign.
One area of strong disagreement was on Charter Schools. Are Charter Schools the panacea for innovation and change for our public school system to better meet the educational needs of all children? Or are Charter Schools, another reform expanded exponentially under the Obama administration, causing significant strain to the already broken public school system?
When will we get it? To educate a child with the ability to read on grade level by 3rd grade will keep incarceration rates low. Most incarcerated youth are several years behind their peers in reading. Several studies have concluded it is 3 to 4 times more cost effective to put public money in the early years of life, prenatal to age 8, than in warehousing tens of thousands of felons for decades.
I know where I want my tax dollar to go. Children are our future.