Judging (in)competence

Within ethics and value theory we find good discussions about utility, maximization of good and minimization of harm. In John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian philosophy, specifically, Mill argues that only a person who has experienced two alternate conditions is qualified to judge one preferable over the other, often called the ‘Doctrine of Competent Judges.’

To 21st century men and women (accustomed as we are to humanistic ethics a few hundred years post-Enlightenment) this reads a bit like archaic truism. Of course we would agree that only a person who has driven both a Camry and a Prius is truly ‘competent’ to judge one superior over the other. This is not to say, of course, that every ‘competent judge’ will have the same preferences or reach the same conclusions, but they importantly have direct knowledge of that which they’re judging.

And so it is with many other opinions we express and judgements we make each day. If we have direct experience with two alternate states of being, we’re at least minimally qualified to judge one over another. Notably, this doesn’t prevent people from expressing unqualified opinions or taking a position on things they have no direct experience with.

For example, LASD public schools. 

There are people in our community who write extensively and critically of the value of LASD despite never having been a member of the LASD community. David Roode, one of the most avid and prolific of the anti-LASD crusaders, spreads byzantine arguments against the district’s leadership, policies, finances and more. Roode is a newish but staunch member of that noisy 10% anti-district subgroup that harasses LASD from every conceivable angle. He clutters online comment threads and forums with aspersions cast by his multiple pseudonyms.

  • Roode is founding Vice President of the now widely discredited group Each Student Counts that accuses standout, award-winning LASD of failed leadership, fiscal irresponsibility and lack of transparency.
  • Roode claims, despite the addition of more than 1,000 students over the past decade, that LASD exaggerates when it claims its campuses have grown crowded.
  • Roode questions, criticizes and attempts to improve on the work product of a variety of community volunteer groups assembled to solve complex district issues
  • Roode is a driving force behind the anti-Measure N campaign designed to dissuade local voters from approving a facilities bond to build one (or more) new campuses.

Before I get caught in my own argument about direct experience and competent judging, I will mention that I once invited Roode to meet for coffee to get a better sense of his extreme attitude against LASD, and how he thinks. He accepted my invitation, so we met for 1-2 hours. It was a spellbinding, wide-ranging discussion.

I can’t swear to it, but I believe Roode is a single retired IT guy, but I can swear that I found him quite a peculiar personality. He seems intelligent and obviously has focus and countless hours for spinning out detailed arguments about school finances, facilities litigation, zoning and more—having absolutely no nexus with Roode’s IT expertise.

What troubled me most about my long discussion with Roode was his obvious lack of appreciation for social dynamics within a school community. Most surprising, he seemed completely unable to imagine how certain social situations I described could be uncomfortable for some students and parents. It was almost like he was empathically or socially impaired. It’s no mystery to me that Roode steers clear of public participation, preferring instead to take long-winded pot-shots at LASD online, safely out of sight.

Above all else, the thing I’d like folks to understand about Roode is that he has zero direct knowledge of that which he is judging.

  • Roode did not grow up in LASD, never attended any LASD school.
  • Roode has no children who attended an LASD school.
  • Roode has never been a volunteer member of any LASD committee.

In other words, Roode has never been a member of the LASD community.

He is neither teacher nor administrator, and doesn’t share certain civic values the vast majority of the community has stemming from educating our children in LASD schools, working hard to ensure our small neighborhood schools and high performing district thrive.

When he makes judgements about district leadership, the merits and civic contributions of our award-winning, state-leading public school district and the value of small neighborhood schools, he does so as an outsider lacking any direct experience.

To be frank, I think Roode is bored and enjoys even the negative attention he gets being critical of a public school district that stands tall as truly exemplary in terms of its students’ achievement, financial efficiency, community support and volunteer participation.

As a judge of LASD, Roode is incompetent. His antagonism is uninformed and grossly out of step from majority community sentiment.

Every fringe amateur opinion deserves to be broadcast far and wide, right? After all, who am I to judge?

Do you even math?

I found this slide deck on the web and thought it hilarious, because if there’s one thing you see a lot of in public education politics, it’s standardized test scores and statistics.

how to lie cheat manipulate using statisticsI guess the reason I found it so funny is because, well, it’s actually trying to be funny, but also because it gave me one of those, “Oh yeah, DUH!” epiphanies. Like when someone explains something simple that you’ve always known, but didn’t grok at a fundamental level until someone else spoke it and the words actually hit your ears. Hey, it happens!

In this case, it was the slides on how biases in your data corrupt any statistical analysis.

More to the point, if you sample a large population but the sample isn’t sufficiently randomized or representative of the total, you can’t run stats on the sample and say anything at all about the total population.

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Beauchman’s agenda: Usurpation

I’ve written before about SCCBOE’s October 2013 Charter Schools Study Workshop. I don’t remember seeing a meeting agenda. The discussion focused mostly on each of the SCCBOE members’ personal view of the role of SCCOE/SCCBOE vis-a-vis charters.

It’s not news to a frequent reader that I believe charter schools have always been intended as special remedies for traditional public schools or districts that suffer from intractable shortcomings and deprive students of a quality education.

The stated legislative objectives of the CA Charter Schools Act of 1992 never included establishment of a parallel system of quasi-private voucher schools operated under the aegis of ‘public education.’ It didn’t intend for charters to attack, undermine or replace California’s traditional school districts, yet sitting members of SCCBOE clearly feel it’s their duty to impose an aggressive pro-charter political agenda on our local districts.

When I listened to this audio recording from the meeting I was surprised by some of what I heard from each member. Here’s SCCBOE President Leon Beauchman’s quote regarding new charter petitions from the Oct. 2013 Charter Schools Study Workshop:

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De La Torre’s fateful recommendation

chuck_weisDe_La_TorreFormer Santa Clara County Schools Superintendent Charles Weis (left) was relieved of duty when Xavier De La Torre (right) was hired as his replacement in June 2012. Weis had his share of problems at SCCOE (and at his previous gig), some of which are chronicled here.

De La Torre came to SCCOE after a three year stint as Superintendent of Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas. At their April 3, 2013 meeting, less than a year after landing at SCCOE, De La Torre presented a ‘white paper‘ to the County Board developed in conjunction with CSCA. It’s an overview of the charter school landscape in Santa Clara County, with typical demographic stats and standardized test scores for each of the county’s charters.

What I found most interesting were the Superintendent’s recommendations:

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Perpetual Beta

I caught up with a friend recently over a beer, we spent a good amount of time discussing a topic we share an interest in: California Charter Law. (I know… *YAWN*)

Here in California, we’ve been experimenting on public school students for more than 20 years using Charter Law, so maybe it’s time to take stock of where things stand.

Go_dog_goMaybe it’s time to rein in the mavericks, to return law and order to this wild west.

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I don’t feel safe.

all_about_meSomething must be done.

FBI report lists Los Altos as one of Bay Area’s safest communities 

Yes, I’ve read the article, I’m sure it’s right. I moved my family to Los Altos because we love the village atmosphere, the family-friendly downtown, the great schools and low crime rate. We considered towns like Hillsborough and Woodside but eventually settled on Los Altos. As a parent, safety is a top priority. I want to raise my family in safe environment.

I understand Los Altos ranks as one of the safest cities in the Bay Area, but our neighborhood just doesn’t feel that safe to me anymore. I’ve heard about crimes in nearby neighborhoods. My neighbors and I want more so we’re doing something about it.

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Meet the new Boss

Same as the old Boss

The Santa Clara County Board of Education has a new President: Leon Beauchman. Beauchman has been a member of SCCBOE for 13 years and previously served as SCCBOE President in 2002 and 2005. He was re-elected in Nov. 2012 in an uncontested race for the Area 3 seat—unfortunately, resembling a single-party election.*

Beauchman has been on SCCBOE continuously since it forged the BCS-LASD conflict in 2003. Prior to the county board’s approval of the Bullis charter, only one charter school operated in Santa Clara County. As of now, SCCBOE has approved 38 charters. Beauchman has been a driver of this aggressive pursuit of charters, an approach the county board calls “bold” and “courageous.” Others call it “reckless” and “privatization.”

beauchmanI had an opportunity in May 2013 to speak in person with now-President Leon Beauchman and then-President Grace Mah after a public meeting on charter school issues in my community. The dialogue was intimate, including just Beauchman, Mah, one or two other people and myself.

mahOur conversation naturally, eventually turned to the BCS-LASD situation, and I mentioned the LASD community’s perception that SCCBOE didn’t perform proper oversight of BCS. I said the LASD community had, over time, communicated to SCCBOE some troubling BCS policies and practices, but rarely (if ever) did the community receive any response or action.

I mentioned specifically that a citizen had inquired about a $250K personal loan made by Bullis Charter School to Principal Wanny Hersey. (It’s illegal for a public school funded with public tax dollars to make a personal loan to an administrator, yet…) In BCS’ annual Form 990 filings across multiple years, a $250K loan was reported as a “personal loan.”

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Much moore on Mann

Strange bedfellows indeed. Downright weird at times. How do these odd couplings come together in the first place? What does that dating game even look like? Beats me. One thing seems clear though: Craig Mann played hard in the small-time money, influence and county politics game. Here’s more of what I’ve learned, and it’s a little unsavory:

mannCraig Mann served on the Santa Clara County Board of Education from 2006 until his resignation in Aug. 2012. Prior to his tenure on SCCBOE, Mann was an East Side Union High School District trustee 1998-2006.

During May-June, 2010 Craig Mann repeatedly attacked SCCOE Superintendent Charles Weis over hiring a Chief Business Officer.

chuck_weisA search committee had been appointed and SCCBOE members were invited to participate in the process. Mann chose not to participate but later sent a series of angry emails to Superintendent Weis, Cc:-ing the rest of SCCBOE, other non-SCCOE people and even members of the press saying (quote):

  • The “No Coloreds” sign needs to come down from the COE drinking fountain.
  • “Jim Crow” employment practices must end at the Santa Clara County Office of Education and it must end now.

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Unpacking political contrition

On the evening of Sep. 20, 2012, the Los Altos United Methodist Church held a facilitated “listening” and “healing” event in a well-meaning attempt to bring together reasonable minds on both sides of the increasingly bitter BCS-vs-LASD battle.

This worthwhile peacemaking event was promoted by, among others, BCS Foundation Board Member Gil Ahrens, as a way to “lower the level of hostility”:

“There will be an opportunity for everyone to speak and be heard on the question of: “How have you experienced the BCS-LASD conflict?” I am very hopeful that this can be a constructive element in the process of community healing. PLEASE share this others you think would have interest.” [sic]

I showed up late, as did a number of other people I’m sure we would agree are pro-LASD. When I arrived, facilitators had already begun inviting the assembled group of 50 or so people to share their personal feelings and perspectives. I didn’t speak, but I took notes of what quite a number of others said.

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Moore on Joe’s campaign

I’ve already written about links between ‘out of area’ campaign contributions, charter politics and SCCBOE… but here’s a little Moore:

disalvoWhen Joe Di Salvo stood for re-election to the Area 4 seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education in November 2012, he didn’t have to run against anyone. For some reason, no candidate emerged from Area 4 to challenge him, so Di Salvo basically didn’t even need to campaign.

The Area 4 seat on SCCBOE represents a majority portion of San Jose Unified, a portion of Oak Grove and corresponding portion of East Side Union High school districts.

FPPC filings show Di Salvo raised a total of $6,415 but spent a total of just $1,715. $3,000 came from his own mother. He was sitting on $4,844 in cash at year-end.

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