SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Test scores do not identify the strong from the weak

Commentary by Robert Bartron
Candidate for District 6 representative to the SCUSD School Board

The key to improving students’ performance is to empower and improve teacher performance. But what is the best way to measure teacher effectiveness?

Student standardized test scores are totally insufficient in measuring teacher performance. Despite what some individuals profess, not every student has the same intelligence, organized study habits, parental support, conceptualization abilities, maturity, and academic orientation as every other student. Teachers do not select their own students, so the best teacher in the world could have a class with lower standardized test scores than a poor teacher who happened to be assigned a class with students who have great test taking abilities.

The value of standardized tests is in establishing expectations of student performance. There is a certain set of facts and abilities that every student must master to be successful in society. Opportunities for success are not going to be different for the poor student than they are for the successful student. We cannot graduate students merely because “they tried hard.” They must meet standards by mastering the reading, writing, math and social skills necessary to be successful in society. No graduate can keep a job because he/she “tries hard” at work. Standards of performance must be met to be successful in our global economy. Standardized test results are a good tool in advising students on their progress in attaining the skill set necessary for success. There are other indicators as well, but testing is a prime resource in advising an individual student on his/her progress.

However, standardized tests, in and of themselves, are not good measures of the quality of instruction provided by teachers. A proper evaluation of a teacher’s performance examines the following areas:

1. Preparation. Has a teacher an annual plan for what the students will master? Is this plan evidenced by daily, detailed lesson plans that comply with basic state standards? Or does the teacher, no matter how many times they have taught the subject, just “wing it” on many days? Does the teacher weekly evaluate the progress on this plan and alter it accordingly after reviewing results to date? Has the students’ previous homework been carefully and promptly graded and is it ready to be given back?

2. Subject expertise. Has the teacher mastered the subject matter to such a degree that he/she can identify the important from the trivial? Does the teacher have a passion for the subject that is reflected in the creativity and completeness in the manner in which it is shared with the students?

3. Presentation. Is the teacher organized and logical in the presentation of material? Does the teacher involve students in the learning process? Does the teacher use different techniques in teaching that recognizes that not every student learns the same way?

4. Classroom environment. Are students energized when they enter the classroom? Do they anticipate another opportunity to excel and receive positive feedback for their efforts? Is the classroom orderly, or does the teacher fail to command the respect of the students?

5. Professional development. Is the teacher excited about sharing knowledge and helping students grow individually? Or is the teacher going through the motions, having lost the passion for teaching? Does the teacher seek to continually improve his/her professionalism in teaching? Does he/she seek better ways to improve the learning by the students? Or is the teacher happy to accept the status quo? Is the teacher inspired or burnt out?

Test scores do not identify the strong teachers from the weak. The only way to answer the teacher quality questions posed above is to observe the teacher in action. Principals are not there to be administrators. Principals need to be leaders. Leaders know their people so well they can help find ways for them to continually improve. Leaders inspire their team to do more in order to achieve more. Leaders are closely involved in the development of individuals under their direction. Regular classroom evaluations—scheduled and unannounced—is the only true way to help teachers improve. The purpose of the visits is to encourage those doing it right and offer training options for those that need improvement. Bad administrators use evaluations as the first step of due process to fire a teacher. Leaders use evaluations as the first step in giving one-on-one assistance to teachers who need it. Any principal who cannot motivate, inspire and positively direct a teacher to success has failed in his/her leadership assignment. Any time a principal moves to terminate a teacher, it is clear reflection of the principal’s failure as a leader to help his/her teachers achieve excellence.

Tests don’t take the measure of good teachers. Leaders do this through supportive accountability of classroom performance by teachers. This is only possible if the principal knows what is going on in the classroom and has a plan to improve outcomes.


Written by scusdobserver

August 14, 2010 at 7:46 am

Time for the board to step up

By Lori A. Jablonksi

Sixty-seven teachers at C.K. McClatchy High School voted this week to overwhelmingly support the collective bargaining agreement between the district and Sacramento City Teachers Association.

I want to make sure I do my best to convey the general sense and mood as
McClatchy teachers gave their approval to donate to the District over $1,000
annually for the next two years to fund elementary class-size reduction and
to establish a retiree benefit trust.

Teachers voted with no guarantee that the counselors we so desperately
need at the middle and high school levels will return.  And they did
so without any word whether pink-slipped high school teachers would be
back in the classrooms next year.  One teacher called his vote a “leap of
faith” that the Board will finally “get it” and start paying attention to
the budget and actual spending, rather than just approve what the District
staff presents.

Another, a teacher with teens soon to start college, had tears in her
eyes as she voted (actually, quite a few did).  She told me that with her
husband furloughed and with the astonishing increases in the price of
tuition she had no idea what she was going to do about her kids’
college future.  This agreement, she said, would essentially wipe away
what little discretionary income her family had left each month. (She
noted too, as did several others, that at least with furloughs they could
spend the day off at home. A bit of gallows humor, perhaps, in a
terrible situation.)  Nevertheless, she told me she voted for it, as did
over 90% of the McClatchy staff.

Most concerning to me, however, was the overall sense of skepticism
expressed that Superintendent Raymond and the members of the Board of
Trustees truly appreciate that the teachers have agreed to make a
significant financial sacrifice in order to repudiate the “race to the
bottom” mentality others were so quick to embrace:  that furloughs (teaching
fewer days!) in any way, shape or form are consistent with “putting kids

Now that the agreement has been ratified, the District, thanks in large part
to its teachers, should be celebrated far and wide as a place where the
school year was kept intact, students and families were not turned away
through furloughs, and the true education mission was preserved.

It is now time to ask SCUSD board members to step up and match the
commitment shown by District teachers to keep cuts as far away from the kids
as possible.

Over the past year, I have joined others, including Board Member
Rodriguez, in advocating for a “line-by-line” budget review public work shop
in order to ensure that all dollars budgeted and spent are done so with
priority concerns–our kids’ classroom learning experience–in mind.

This is a plea to create such a process.

It will help re-assure teachers, parents and the community, at this
crucial time when so many are sacrificing so much, that the District Board
of Trustees are determined to leave no stone unturned to find ways to reduce
the cuts to teaching and support staff going forward.   We might even
discover a way to fully fund our middle and high school counselors and
restore some reality to the oft-stated principle that we believe in
nurturing a college-going culture in this district.

Standing With The Smallest!

By Leo Bennett-Cauchon

There are alternatives…

…to bringing children to tears and parents to anger,
to ripping the social fabric of our neighborhoods,
to making the lives of our lower income families even harder
to increasing the carbon footprint of education.

One is called the sustainable (walkable and community-centered) neighborhood schools that already grace our unique and diverse urban neighborhoods. Over the years these schools have managed to protect themselves from the “short list” closure efforts by the central office except for the two we have lost in the past few years. Now, four more are targeted with ten more at risk. At this rate the extinction of a valuable community resource is fast approaching. This is wrong both in terms of equity and cost effectiveness.

Another is called weighted student budgeting. Good stewardship means paying attention to the quality of smaller as well as the efficiencies of quantity. Learning happens at the local school level and this is where the funding decisions should start. With a per-student budgeting model, individual schools would receive about $9,420 for each student (average per student funding in 07-08). This would cover every existing site budget with plenty of funds available for a creative competition by the central office through quality support services.

School sites need to be focused on addressing the diverse challenges of our students. They are our future. Small neighborhood schools have a research-established ability to provide important individual attention and to nurture crucial resiliency factors. These quality aspects save the community millions in future social costs and also provide us millions in future contributions to the economy.

Small schools produce good citizens.

SCUSD management is desperately pushing their larger school-size model to take advantage of the global fiscal crisis. Unfortunately they are also now using misinformation to advance this agenda. They state that closures are necessary to address budget shortfalls. SCUSD’s income has increased every year except for one slight dip a few years back and, with the federal stimulus, will continue to grow in the future. Spending has grown consistently and is projected by management to be higher than last year by $25 million at year’s end. This is not accurate but is an example of the errors resulting from haste and the lack of focus on responsible savings, taking away from our neighborhood schools.

They also maintain that closures are needed due to a 10-year decline in enrollment. SCUSD’s own medium-range projections state that we will see the beginning of a 10-year increase in elementary enrollment starting in 2008-09. The projection was for 26,327 and at the October CBEDs count, SCUSD elementary enrollment was at 26,357. The future projection is for a return to 1999-00 levels by 2014-15.

The community must stand together with our most vulnerable and smallest members.

Management is both literally out-of-town and out-of-touch.

Management needs to return to their roots as teachers first. Thus another alternative is to expand the proposal from renting out portions of their central office to completely re-purposing Serna Center. It could be fairly easily converted to a great revenue asset and is the nicest facility farthest from the actual core mission of the our district.

The mission? Success for every student by name. This is a current reality at our neighborhood schools. Re-purposing the central offices would be a great commitment towards safeguarding this core mission in challenging times.

The benefits of management relocating to the local schools and having the opportunity to easily contribute each day to directly supporting student achievement could also be a significant boost to the efforts to bridge the achievement gap. Unlike the current lose and gain approach, per student budgeting and decentralized district management could be a win-win alternative. Our Board should ask for management to cost-out these alternatives so that a truly informed decision is evident to the stakeholders of SCUSD.

Written by scusdobserver

April 19, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Commentary

Time to Really Think Outside the Box

By Mike Simpson

It is time for each of us in leadership roles to look in the mirror.

While the current state of the education crisis is directly related to the recession, there are structural reasons why this crisis is so desperate. The leadership of our education establishment suffers from inbreeding and groupthink. When Einstein described insanity, he had the educational establishment in mind. BIG districts and BIG unions have not served the best interests of our children. While we continue to do amazing things for many, the fact is that there are too many of our children being left behind.

The leadership change that we need is in place now. It does not reside in the district office or the union office. It is time to listen and work with the community and parents. School site councils and neighborhood associations contain the ideas that are impossible for the “Bigs” of the educational establishment. The community leaders found closest to our children can move education forward but they are shut out of the process, structurally. The “Bigs” continue to work with the legislature to find the solutions that fit the nice little box of the educational establishment. Unfortunately the results are more of the same.

I believe that only bottom-up and grassroots solutions will change the mess that we have in education. We must empower our school site councils through site-level budgets where the education dollars follow the child.

Current leaders need to get their heads around the idea that leadership is not exclusively their realm. It is time that we listen to teachers, parents and communities at the site level and see if we do not find answers that serve all our children.

Written by scusdobserver

April 18, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Commentary

Pia Lopez Strikes Again: Commentary

In yesterday’s Bee, education reporter Pia Lopez tosses out this little nugget of information on her blog:

…An education summit at the California Museum March 9. (Kevin Johnson) wants to elevate the profile of the city as a place of innovation. He’ll have local folks and a few national speakers to address the following issues: how to attract high quality teachers and principals (including alternative credentialing); school choice (including attracting providers to Sacramento); accountability and data (the state’s API, he believes, is “not transparent” and is “convoluted” as a way of identifying good schools); performance pay; and how to bring additional resources to Sacramento. Hear any feathers ruffling?

Isn’t it ironic that Kevin Johnson is crying about transparency? And convolution? And Ms. Lopez’s characterization of Mr. Johnson’s Rhee-like reforms coming to Sacramento is a bit disingenous. More than feathers will ruffle if Kevin Johnson gets his hands on the city’s school system. Perhaps Lopez’s cheerleading is meant to suggest that KJ really does know best…after all, he’s been the mayor for 44 days.

Written by scusdobserver

January 17, 2009 at 1:44 am

Time Is Ripe For Opportunity

Change. It’s the buzzword of the year and it has filtered down to our school district with the collision of many issues — the budget crisis, the consent decree high school postponement, possible school closures and three newly-elected school board members who have the potential to swing a majority vote.

The board will face its share of formidable challenges in the coming months with one task in particular standing above the rest — picking a new superintendent. We need a leader who will source change and fiscal responsibility. We also need a leader who will cultivate a common-sense and compassionate culture – someone who will truly understand what is being asked of staff, teachers, parents and students asked to cut budgets, close schools and ultimately lose jobs and opportunities.

The new superintendent must be more than an ego-driven figurehead.

This new board needs to do its homework. Diana Rodriquez, Donald Terry, Gustavo Arroyo and Patrick Kennedy all stood up for the issue of strong community engagement.This ideal needs to hold and these new members need to avoid the comfortable crawl of delaying decisions while waiting for staff reports. The new board team must not hear only what it wants to hear, instead it must persistently listen to public comment and internalize voices other than its own.

And what will we do? As parents, citizens, and activists it is important for us to continue to come together to hold this board accountable for change. The work of so many neighborhood groups over the past few years has planted seeds. We must continue to cultivate our crop, knowing when to be aggressive and when to be patient. We have a clear and legitimate voice and we will be heard.

Written by scusdobserver

November 26, 2008 at 5:54 pm

Posted in Commentary