[Click here for a related letter to the editor by Lou Segal.]
Santa Barbara Teachers Association PAC Questionnaire
Answers by Lou Segal, candidate for Santa Barbara school board
1. What is your view of the purpose of public education, and what are your top three objectives if elected?
To ensure that all children receive an excellent education, so they are prepared to maximize their potential in either furthering their education upon graduation from high school or utilizing the academic and vocational skills they have acquired to become productive members of society.
A) Improve student academic outcomes; B) ensure there is an effective and integrated system for recruiting, hiring, training, evaluating and retaining the very best teachers; C) develop a comprehensive teacher and administrator evaluation/accountability system; D) review curriculum in elementary schools to ensure all children are learning the fundamentals of writing and math; and E) establish expertise in school finance and budgeting in order to minimize bureaucracy and redirect more of the resources to the classroom.
2. What is your opinion on merit pay and/or paying teachers based on test scores? Are there other alternatives?
I am in favor of merit pay. I believe the most effective teachers should be rewarded and recognized for their efforts and accomplishments. To recruit the best and brightest of our college graduates to the teaching profession, a seniority system that doesn’t recognize great performance will fail to attract these people.
A teacher evaluation system must be comprehensive and rely upon quantitative and qualitative measures. For example, I would like the system to encompass teacher observations, colleague consultation, parent and student feedback, and also test scores. Of the four measures, I think teacher observations by a trained and competent evaluator is by far the most important component.
3. With the federal government’s use of competitive grants, there have been attempts to undercut collective bargaining. Do you understand the legalities of collective bargaining and what you as a board member can and cannot do legally? What do you see as the role of the teachers union?
I have read the 2011-14 collective bargaining agreement, and I have also studied the state educational code, so I am very familiar with teacher labor rules. I understand many of the rules cannot be unilaterally changed unless amended by legislation or ballot initiative, although the teachers association can agree as part of the collective bargaining process to change many of the labor practices as stipulated in the state educational code.
I believe most teachers are also concerned with improving the public schools for all children and are willing to accept change and necessary reforms to improve student outcomes. I believe many teachers don’t want low-performing or ineffective teachers to be necessarily protected because of tenure and seniority rules.
I would think the teachers association can have a very important role in promoting public education and providing its own input and ideas for implementing a framework for teacher collaboration and teacher support systems to enhance teacher training and development. As a professional organization, it can be an important resource for teachers and administrators.
4. There have been many attacks on teachers rights. While teachers do not have true tenure, only the right to due process, how do you feel about due process rights for teachers?
Due process is an important right, and I am a vigorous supporter of civil liberties. No one should have his or her rights trampled upon. Having said that, it is also important not to abuse due process to frustrate attempts to remove ineffective teachers or administrators. Currently, it takes way too long and too much money to remove an ineffective teacher. Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of teachers in California are removed because of poor performance. In many school districts, 100 percent of all teachers are receiving satisfactory scores, even though it is highly unlikely all teachers are performing at the same level.
There is something wrong with the system when the county Teacher of the Year is dismissed because of seniority. Everyone, including unions, should care about ensuring that all students are receiving the very best teacher instruction. There has been considerable research indicating that a child has a three times greater chance of succeeding in school if he/she is taught by a great teacher.
I know unions are concerned that principals and administrators from the superintendent’s office will not be fair, and good teachers will somehow be unfairly tarnished if not protected by tenure. Although no system is perfect, that does not mean we should not strive to do the best we can. I am also a firm believer that administrators need to be rigorously evaluated and removed, if they cannot implement an effective and fair teacher evaluation system.
5. What do you feel is the role of board members, teachers and parents in the adoption of textbooks? Are you willing to follow the guidelines outlined by the State of California, school board policies and national teacher associations, such as the National Science Teachers Association?
Yes, I am willing to follow the guidelines of the professional associations and all reputable scientific associations in the selection of textbooks. My only objective is to use textbooks that facilitate the teaching of core requirements for all grades and subjects and where there is evidence the textbook has improved student outcomes and critical learning skills.
6. What are your feelings about charter schools and vouchers?
I am a supporter of charter schools, if they are doing a good job. As in most situations, there is no one model that works for everyone. However, many of the reforms I advocate for public schools should also be adopted for charter schools. If a charter is a high-performing school and achieving great outcomes for students, then I think there is a place for them in the district.
Vouchers are a complicated issue. I know many people believe vouchers would drain resources from our public schools and leave the most difficult kids for the public schools to deal with. However, as I already said, there is no one model that works for every situation. There are some important advantages to a well-conceived voucher system. If some portion of the education budget were allocated to parents, it would have the advantage of possibly preventing the funding of the huge bureaucratic educational infrastructure in Sacramento and at the County Education Office. Today, there is too much money diverted from the classroom and spent on all kinds of questionable programs and administration.
It could also promote healthy competition if schools were at risk of losing enrollment because of mediocre performance. Of course, there would need to be many more nonprofit or private school alternatives than we currently have in the community for the system to work. These schools should also be restricted from cherry-picking students that would segregate the low-performing students in a few schools.
I have studied the scholarship voucher system in Washington, D.C., and the results look promising. I would urge you to study the Swedish voucher system, which has received glowing reviews. Its system is all-inclusive and cannot charge students fees more than the voucher. It is a universal system open to all students.
Steve Jobs in an interview with the Smithsonian in the 1990s spoke favorably of the voucher model. He felt that enterprising entrepreneurs from Harvard, Stanford and other prestigious schools of education would start up schools if there were a willingness to encourage this type of activity. I don’t know if this is true, but I think it should be tried in a controlled manner to see if it could produce better results with equivalent funding.
There are some urban districts that are widely perceived to be doing a poor job (test sores are unusually low and not improving), which may be good candidates for a voucher system. Although this may not be the answer you are looking for from me, I like to be open-minded and consider all alternatives to finding the right system for maximizing student academic outcomes. Surely, there is no one answer to the perplexing problem of the vast number of students who are not succeeding in our schools today.
7. Tell us about your campaign. Who is your treasurer? How much money have you raised? How much do you plan to raise? What endorsements have you received or plan to receive?
I am acting as my own treasurer, since it is my money that I am spending. At this point I am not sure I intend to raise money, as I may rely solely upon my own funds. If I don’t take money from any organization, it will allow me to take positions and make decisions without feeling constrained by special interests, which may have goals that may not necessarily be compatible with maximizing the performance of our schools.
I have no ulterior motive for wanting to be a school board member other than doing everything I can to ensure that all students receive an excellent education and are prepared to compete for jobs in a 21st century global economy.