In assessing America's international competitiveness, many experts would give us good marks for having deep capital markets, high entrepreneurship, and a "best in class" university system. That is why people come here to invest, start a (particularly tech) business, and get a college or post-graduate education. On the other hand, the United States is well down the international ranks in terms of the business tax code and K-12 education. The good news - if you choose to accept the challenge - is that education is largely controlled at the state and local level, and that the informed voter can make a difference. Here are some action-oriented thoughts for the November 4 elections.
A little bit of searching at www.Ballotpedia.com, your local department of elections, or the school district's web site will explain the structure of the school district, list the candidates, and sometimes provide brief biographies. Some candidates will have their own web sites, but more frequently it is necessary to find local news articles, attend a debate, or do a Google search. Candidates generally welcome e-mails or calls asking for their positions and upcoming events. In September and October they should be in full campaign mode - looking for volunteers to man phones, walk precincts, or donate.
Everyone claims to favor strong financial management and opportunity for all students, and the largest differentiators in selecting Board members to vote for are generally the capabilities of the candidate and the commitment to do real work. That said, there are sometimes real policy differences too, often along the lines of whether the candidate's commitment to students is moderated by a commitment to the teachers' unions, and whether the candidate sees a School Board position as a stepping stone toward higher office. The prior shortcoming reflects in attitudes about compensation, performance measurement, and willingness to address low performing teachers. The latter can lead to a focus on issues that have little to do with education - social issues; environmental issues; school lunch mandates.
It is worth focusing on what the local school board can really impact. Since Common Core is determined at a state level, it is more meaningful to ask what they think the district should do to implement it rather than initiate a philosophical discussion. On the other hand, charter schools, school assignmnet policies, and vouchers are local issues which offer differentiation among candidates.
The incumbents and top new candidates are easy to figure out if you have kids in the school. If you don't, ask someone who does. Go to a school board meeting or watch one on public television. Incumbents have a visible track record. .
San Francisco - an extreme example.
In San Francisco in 2014 there are issues that offer clear choices for the voter at the K-12 level, at the Junior College level, and at the state level.
San Francisco has the lowest percentage of residents under 18 of any city in the country. Private schools represent 24% of the k-12 population, including the kids of some 80 percent of households earning over $100,000. Clearly, the public school system is not attracting a large portion of the students and parents who could make a better system for all students. One factor is a school assignment policy which favors income factors (as a proxy for racial factors) over neighborhood schools in a failing effort to force integration, while requiring high school students to spend hours on buses and minimizing parent involvement in the schools. One candidate, Lee Hsu, has the courage to champion neighborhood schools.
For the past two years the 80,000-student City College of San Francisco has been struggling to stay open despite a revocation of credentials by the Accreditating Commission of Community and Junior Colleges. The largest issues have been managerial rather than academic - particularly an abdication of management by the Board (including several Democrat activists) to a system of "shared governance" by a council of teacher and administrator unions who had little interest in financial managment, made no effort to collect delinquent tuition, and offered outsized administrator salaries. Two totally unrepentant Board members are running for reelection; Thomas Moyer offers a choice for the common sense management needed to ensure the survival of the school.
California's State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, has rejected federal funds tied to any teacher evaluation system and enthusiastically supported Common Core. In the recent Vergara case a Los Angeles judge ruled that California's teacher tenure laws cause the retention of unqualified teachers who disproportionately wind up in minority-population schools, thus violating the state's constitution which guarantees a quality education to all students. When federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan applauded the decision, Torlakason vowed to appeal. Marshall Tuck, a former charter school executive, offers an excellent alternative.
The issues in education are universal; the manifestations and solutions are local. If America is to regain its competitive edge internationally, it is imperative that we become informed and elect local leaders who understand. Get off of the couch.
This week's video is our Secretary of State explaining that the effort that we are asking global partners to join is not a war. The problem - President Obama does not want to go to Congress for approval prior to the November elections. All politics, all the time.
bill bowen - 9/12/14