It is no secret that California’s public schools are in dire need of reform. While the Santa Barbara Unified School District performs better than others, we are still no exception.

Institutional bureaucracy and red tape are overwhelming hindrances to effective change. While Superintendent Dave Cash has made positive changes on the district level — limiting pink slips, rehiring teachers earlier than ever and demanding a focus on students — there are obstacles on the state level that are impeding further needed reform.

The achievement gap is a direct result of failed state policies. Statistics show that our Latino and Latina students are not achieving proficiency — or graduating — on the same levels as their white peers. Furthermore, students with lower socioeconomic status are also struggling academically. While the school board and principals are addressing this issue through data analysis, teacher development and forming action committees, the problem still exists.

I venture to say that all our kids — regardless of the color of their skin, where they live or how much money their parents make — can be successful in school and beyond, but they need to have excellent teachers in front of them and advocates in the state Capitol who will help fight to keep those teachers in the classroom.

Our own Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson has the opportunity to make a huge difference for the students in Santa Barbara County. As an educator herself — and supported by the Santa Barbara Teachers Association — I hope she has the community’s teachers’ and students’ best interests at heart.

Newly introduced Senate Bill 441 will be heard by the Senate Education Committee this Wednesday in Sacramento. This bill focuses on meaningful teacher evaluations via more frequent and detailed feedback. The more consistent and thorough feedback we can provide our teachers, the better quality instruction our students can hope to receive.

Teachers make a huge difference in our kids’ lives. Having a highly effective teacher in the classroom directly correlates to students’ academic success. The question is, do we know exactly who the highly effective teachers are? SB 441 will help distinguish the exemplary educators from the ones who need more support, which will allow administrators and districts to provide targeted professional development to the ones who need it most.

While I commend SBUSD for their robust teacher evaluation form — evaluating teachers on six different standards with a five-scale rating — there is no standardization or high expectations of such evaluations across the state. And despite our district’s thorough five-scale rating of individual teaching standards, as per state policy, SBUSD teachers are merely given a simple overall rating of “satisfactory” or “non-satisfactory.”

Under this current state system, approximately 98 percent of teachers are scoring “satisfactory,” making it difficult to know how well California teachers are truly doing. Furthermore, evaluations are infrequent and lacking any objective student progress information. To make matters worse, evaluations are not tied to hiring and personnel matters, making them essentially useless.

This is frustrating for districts, administrators, good teachers, parents and, most importantly, the students. Teachers deserve frequent and relevant feedback that will help them improve, and students deserve having great — not simply “satisfactory” — teachers teaching them.

Our kids can’t wait. They need courageous leaders in Sacramento who will take on the status quo and demand reform. I hope Sen. Jackson will be that leader and a bold voice for change by voting yes on Senate Bill 441.

Bethany Bodenhamer
Santa Barbara