I have filed papers to be a candidate for the Santa Barbara Unified school board. I have submitted the following candidate statement to be included on the ballot:
“Living in Santa Barbara for 24 years and having put my child through its school system, nothing concerns me more than our public schools in California.
“My experience as a small-business owner makes me question the effectiveness of tenure and seniority in our schools. Promising ineffective teachers job security and higher wages based solely on length of service is indefensible. The Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year in 2010 was dismissed because of her lack of seniority. Does this make any sense?
“Teacher unions spend more on political campaigns than any other special interest group in California. This has led to a dysfunctional culture in our schools, where the unions have inordinate power to dictate teacher transfers, evaluations and reassignments. Fewer than 1 out of 1,000 teachers are dismissed for performance-related reasons each year.
“According to the California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force, up to 90 percent of students require remediation in English and math. Why are so many students not learning the fundamentals of writing and math? This needs to change.
“If elected, I promise to focus on student performance and outcomes. It’s time to build a culture of success in our schools for all children.”
Since I was limited to 200 words, I would like to more fully explain to the voters my rationale for running for this office. First, I should say that I never in my wildest dreams thought I would run for public office. I have a great life and am not inclined to change any part of it.
I am deeply concerned, however, about the disrepair of our public schools. Over the last 30 years, I have watched the quality of our public education decline precipitously. Today, by all measures, K-12 public education in the United States has fallen behind other countries in the industrialized world. The Program for International Student Assessment ranks 15-year-old students in the United States 35th in math literacy, 29th in science and 18th in reading, and 70 percent of our eighth-graders cannot read proficiently.
As I said in my candidate statement, up to 90 percent of students who graduate high schools in Santa Barbara and other cities in California need remedial help in English and math in our community colleges. We are leaving behind a generation of kids who will have no hope of qualifying for high-paying jobs, not to mention entry-level jobs. This is an unmitigated disaster unfolding before our eyes.
We do not have to passively tolerate this impending disaster. There are public and private schools in our country serving minority and lower socio-economic communities that are actually sending 100 percent of their graduates to college. How do they do it? By changing a culture of mediocrity to a culture of success. They have developed a comprehensive system for recruiting, training, evaluating and retaining great teachers in all classrooms.
There has been considerable research indicating that students are three times more likely to succeed in school if they have great teachers. These schools are not encumbered by dysfunctional tenure and seniority rules, which allow ineffective teachers to languish for decades. When there are cuts, the last-in-first-out union rules (lifo) are not used to decide which teachers must be let go. Teachers are paid based on achievement not length of service. There is a system to evaluate teachers using student outcomes, frequent unannounced observations of teachers, and student and parent feedback. Everyone is held accountable, including principals and superintendents. Curriculum and core standards are constantly being evaluated and revised if they are not delivering results. No stone is left unturned to improve the schools and to provide successful outcomes for all students.
The good news is that I believe we have such a superintendent in Santa Barbara. I have met with Dr. David Cash, and I can say that he gets it. He has already replaced 13 teachers and several principals. So far we have been fortunate, as most of these teachers have voluntarily agreed to leave the district. He is introducing new curriculum and developing evaluation systems to ensure that every student will have a great teacher. He is going to hold principals accountable for the performance of their schools. I believe he is fearless and intends to implement these reforms regardless of the criticism he will likely encounter.
Unfortunately, because there are many constituencies who are invested in the status quo and who will fiercely resist these reforms, it is imperative that the school committee back Dr. Cash, even when it becomes uncomfortable. So I think it is important for the other candidates to tell us specifically where they stand on tenure, seniority, lifo and merit pay. Are they going to seek the endorsement of the teacher unions and, more importantly, their campaign contributions? If they have taken their money, do they think they can be impartial as they negotiate their wages, benefits and work rules?
We have spent too much time worrying about the adults at the expense of the kids. Unfortunately, the kids cannot lobby for themselves and they suffer when we allow politics to get in the way of doing the things we know are necessary to ensure that children of every race, ethnicity and socio-economic background are successfully educated and prepared to compete for the jobs of the future.
Let’s make sure that the Santa Barbara Unified School District becomes a model district that is viewed by other communities as the prototype they want to emulate.