John Swan: Building a bridge to… the Twilight Zone

Consider, if you will, a few things we know about Los Altos School District:

  • Its elementary and middle schools have been repeatedly recognized for consistent academic excellence by both the California and US Departments of Education.
  • It’s recognized by local and foreign educators, media, and private organizations as an innovative public school district in Silicon Valley.
  • It’s the only school district in its region with a Citizen’s Advisory Committee for Finance (CACF) that provides long-term budget and planning support.
  • It’s the only district in California awarded the GFOA Certificate of Achievement of Excellence in Financial Reporting each of the past 10 years.
  • It has been awarded the Meritorious Budget Award by the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO) each year for the past 14 years.
  • Was rated the most financially efficient Basic Aid school district in California by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) at its 2010 (SF)² Spring Symposium.

Yet a certain anti-LASD contingent (that shall not be named) accuses LASD of being a stagnant, bloated government monopoly that resists innovation and isn’t equipped to prepare students for the realities of the 21 century… blah, blah, blah…  UGH!  ENOUGH!!

Doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo…

Sometimes, life here in Lake Wobegon feels more like… the Twilight Zone.

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What’s in a name? Maybe deception.

These people calling themselves “LASD Parents for Great Schools” donated more than $21,000 in one week to support pro-BCS candidates Martha McClatchie and John Swan.

I haven’t done a deep-dive on the list, but at a glance I see there’s a lot of overlap between this donor list and current and former BCS Foundation board and BCS School board members.

Recall that Martha McClatchie is a former LASD parent whose children now attend BCS. Martha volunteered for the BCS Foundation in 2012, completing and signing its 2012 IRS Form 990 as Principal Officer and Treasurer.

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Why not Martha? Her actions. (Part 1)

I’ve previously written about my experience with Martha McClatchie, and why I find her an ideologically inappropriate candidate for LASD Trustee. Ideology aside, there are a number of actions she has taken as a pro-BCS, anti-LASD activist that more then give me pause:

  1. Political flip-flop on BCS facilities litigation
  2. Obscuring BCS legal and PR expenditures
  3. Organizing a media stunt to shame LASD (coming soon)
  4. Close ties to charter movement leadership (coming soon)

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Why not Martha? Her ideology.

My objection to Martha McClatchie’s candidacy for LASD Trustee is based on my personal experience with her. I’m certainly not accusing Martha of being a bad person. To the contrary, she’s a tireless volunteer for causes she supports, which is admirable.

I know for a fact that Martha has performed many great services for children in her community, but this does not necessarily qualify her for the LASD Trustee role she seeks.

Martha has lots of passion and amplitude, but passion and amplitude can be either an asset or a liability.

I think Martha is ideologically poorly suited to be an LASD Trustee, and some of her projects and tactics over the past few years raise questions about her judgement. Because of choices she has made, Martha’s passion has become a liability, and the truth about her choices and allegiances are obscured from voters in this election.

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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. 

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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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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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My, what big teeth you have

There is no confusion about the historical impetus for the California charter school movement: Californians had grown frustrated, even panicked, by the perception* that their public schools were failures and something needed to be done about it.

Enter the reformers.

In an article they wrote for the Phi Delta Kappan in 1996, former State Senator Gary Hart and Sue Burr, the sponsor and author of California’s Charter Schools Act of 1992, say a major, credible threat to public education had begun to coalesce: vouchers.

wolf-in-sheeps-clothingThe idea of school vouchers with libertarian portability of per-student funding, redeemable by private and even religious schools, was not new. It had been promoted by Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and other free-market economists and politicians since the 1950s. Proponents pointed to supposed failings of public schools and promoted abandoning the public-private dichotomy altogether on the idea that market competition for students and funding would lead to improved learning.

Hart and Burr wrote about the emerging California voucher movement, “This was not a modest voucher pilot proposal, but a full-blown effort to reconstitute public education in California.”

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The Reform acid test

The historical impetus for education reform was to provide extraordinary support for students on the ‘losing’ side of the achievement gap, and the idea of ‘charter’ schools came from expert educators within the public education system itself.

Today some reformers at least appear to ground their efforts in this view. Here’s a photo and quote from the Education section of The Broad Foundations’ 2011-12 annual report:

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 2.32.45 PM“America’s public schools determine the strength of our democracy, the health of our economy and the ability of our middle class to thrive. Yet with one-third of students dropping out and many of those who graduate from high school unable to succeed in college, our public schools are failing our nation.”

Here’s another synopsis of the historical justification for ‘education reform’ and charters:

  • High quality taxpayer-funded education is vital for the current and future success of our democracy and our economy and all students deserve equal access to it.
  • Some children struggle more than others in school, and family history and socio-economic status are the most predictive of student academic achievement.
  • We must do all we can to help low-achieving and under-privileged students be successful in school so that they become prosperous, contributing citizens.
  • If the standard academic program available to students fails to adequately prepare them for a successful future, an alternate program should be available to them.
  • By liberalizing rules of the public education system, school administrators, staff and parents can create alternative programs that meet the needs of struggling students.
  • The ‘charter school’ idea was originally conceived by expert educators as a novel remedy to help close the pernicious achievement gap.

The acid test of whether a reformer or charter school is legitimately aligned with the movement’s historic intent is if they offer and advocate for an admissions preference for students achieving below the mean in their school or district, for students on the ‘losing’ side of the achievement gap.

Any purported reformer of public education advocating for charters and privatization that serves students already on the ‘winning’ side of the achievement gap should be exposed as a fraud. Especially when they’re able to force their ‘reforms’ onto thriving and high-performing public school districts against majority will of the community and a democratically elected Board of Trustees.

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 9.58.19 AMIf the intent of education reform is to level the playing field for under-served students, then under-served students should be first in line to benefit.

In the words of the late Milton Friedman, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” When the results of an ‘education reform’ initiative are a widening of the achievement gap and re-emergence of racial and socio-economic segregation and discrimination in public education founded on equity, we’re rightly judged to have made a great mistake indeed.