SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

Archive for the ‘Sacramento Bee’ Category

I better stop now before I get in trouble*

Stories that developed while on hiatus:

  • Proposed Senate Bill 1317 (Mark Leno, D-San Francisco) will legislate the incarceration of parents of truant California children.
  • The Sacramento Bee reports that SCUSD is eligible for federal funding to help 1,801 refugee children in grades K-12 who have arrived in the county in the last three years.
  • West Campus’s test scores continue to put that local high school in the state spotlight for excellence.
  • Still more education reporting from the Bee (Phillip Reese and Melody Gutierrez) reveals that the number of students who aren’t proficient in English dropped to its lowest level in about a decade.

Also, California lost out on Race To The Top funding, the California legislature passed SB-1381 (Kindergarten Age,) and the Los Angeles Times invented the Teacher’s Box Score.

And as a bizarre side note, Sacramento was deprived of a celebrity wedding this weekend when Kevin Johnson and Michelle Rhee sent out e-mails to uninvite guests to their Labor Day nuptials, calling the big plans  “a mistake.”

*The Mayor’s words, as quoted by Kitty O’Neal.


Written by scusdobserver

September 4, 2010 at 9:11 am

Improving the District, step by step…Teaching Citizenship

Last week the Sacramento Bee printed an article about Beth Tinker, now a 57-year-old pediatric nurse, who as a teenager was one of the plaintiffs in a seminal United States Supreme Court case concerning schools and democratic speech.

While the Bee focused on the person and the politics, it is actually the language of the Court’s opinion that warranted attention.  We talk a lot about what we want to transmit to children through education.  Scholastic aptitude and academic achievement are foremost.  But we also want our school system to impart certain skills and knowledge that will help our children grow and prosper throughout their lives.

Many education advocates discuss education in terms of the skills and knowledge that are relevant to the 21st century economy.   And economic security and prosperity are essential goals of the system.  But the Tinker case highlights another important facet of our education system.  Our schools train our children how to be active, participatory citizens in our local and national democratic communities.  The court’s opinion realizes a schoolhouse that teaches youth the skills and knowledge to contribute to our democracy.  And, this citizenship lesson is relevant still today.

The court finds three principles that our schools embody in teaching citizenship.  First, students are an integral part of our collective political community.  Children should engage in policy discussions.  Political arguments about leadership and community values necessarily include youth and children.  They can be taught pertinent facts and learn to articulate their opinions in light of them.  School children are fundamental to our national political dialogue.  Children are important members, and thought of as citizens who should concern themselves with pressing contemporary policy and political issues.  They are not second class persons when our community debates its collective future.  Political speech is safe in these young hands.

Second, democracy includes arguments about what is best for our community and its future.   Engagement in free speech brings forth a dialogue, which at times leads to disputes.  For children, especially teenagers, personal opinions are at the forefront of their existence and imbue their relationships.  These opinions exist and generate responses and disagreements from peers.   Democratic conversation is not necessarily quiet nor does it fail to provoke reaction.  Learning how to take part in robust discussion is central to acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to become an active participant in our community.

Last, students must act responsibly in our democracy.   The student must respect the rights of others surrounding him or her.  Unavoidably, students come into contact with one anther, where identity, ideology and policy considerations lead to arguments about how best to advance certain public goals and goods.  Children must act and speak responsibly.  They must respect political dialogue.  They must interact and speak from knowledge and with purpose. Schools can educate children to speak sensibly and maturely with others.  They can teach children to respect differing opinions and points of view while not betraying the child’s own particular viewpoint.

The court in this case, then, teaches a great lesson about what our schools can and should be imparting to our children regarding democracy and public speech.  Schools can lead youth away from apathy and inaction and motivate them to act responsibility within our democratic community.  They teach youth to be a responsible part of our national dialogue and participate fairly with one another.  Moreover, the lessons learned in responsible speech will teach each child the skills and knowledge necessary for a healthy, vibrant country.  It is through trial and error and thereby growth that students develop skills utilized in the public sphere.  When our schools become active contributors to these lessons, this particularized knowledge becomes a part of the child’s day-to-day existence.  Our students learn to be good citizens, involved in their community and robust neighbors essential to the proper functioning of our body politic.

One fine example of this lesson occurs at Kit Carson Middle School.  This school offers a class where the skills and knowledge essential to our democratic community are taught.  The class focuses on leadership and active listening and participation around specific issues and problems.  Students take on various roles and debate in accordance with the viewpoints they inhabit.  Reasoning, active listening, and a focus on articulating one’s opinions buttressed by particular facts is practiced and honed.  The teacher takes an active role in the process, leading the students through the discussion and reminding them of the responsibility each has to treat one another and each point of view with courtesy, not contempt.

When I observed the class, the students were excited and energetic, engaged in the ongoing debate.  Hands flung in the air as quickly as the teacher could call on them.  A dialogue between the students took on a life of its own, with each student challenging the prior assertions of his or her classmate.  Students felt important and part of a debate that transcended the classroom.  The students challenged themselves as well, learning and internalizing the skills and knowledge necessary for future citizenship.

This class is but one example of how our school district can teach the skills and knowledge essential to our democracy.  These lessons are a direct product of the vision of our schools and classrooms the United States Supreme Court had in the case involving Beth Tinker.  As we weather these tough budgetary times, we must remember that our schools are the training ground for tomorrow’s leaders.  And leadership is a learned skill.  We must not fail to teach our school children how to engage in their community, because the future of Sacramento depends on it.

Written by jeffcuneo

May 12, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Pay attention class…

In Sunday’s Sacramento Bee, columnist Marcos Breton preached that SCUSD teachers need to share the pain, claiming that our teachers haven’t “lifted a finger or sacrificed a dime” as the district has made devastating budget cuts.

An effective tactic of editorial writers is to spark controversy by taking a complex issue and distilling it down to one explanation and often, one villain.

And that is why, with permission, we reprint an online comment written (and reader-recommended) by an astute SCUSD government teacher who has no qualms about respectably talking back to power.

No matter the shape of the final budget deal that will be eventually be struck by Sac City teachers and the district, larger issues will continue to drain the life out of this state and nation. And in recognizing those bigger issues is where the writing of so-called opinion leaders like Mr. Breton fail. Continuing to tout give-backs and other slash and burn employment remedies as a way out of this crisis is folly and simply ignores basic macroeconomic concepts. More employee cost-cutting whether through lay-offs or benefit and pension cutting will not save us. Rather it is a recipe for a jobless recovery, double-dip recession, disappearing middle class and decades of Japan-style no-growth. This is still a very wealthy nation. But if we don’t find the will to consider how the benefits of this wealth are distributed so that we can bring in more revenue for education, we will be left with the schools we deserve.

This is your lesson for today.

Written by scusdobserver

March 2, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Let’s really be bold

On the editorial pages of the Sacramento Bee recently, writers have touted the successes of local school districts that have acted “boldly” in turning around our failing schools.

The reconstitution of Jonas Salk Middle School is cited in one editorial as the brave action that San Juan Unified took to improve its test scores.

Another laughable puff piece in the series displays the Bee’s continued insistence that Sacramento Charter High School has been transformed by the St. Hope Corporation into a successful school with glowing reviews.

Well, we won’t go there at the moment…

Instead, let’s offer up some real alternatives on how to improve schools that show deteriorating test scores — if that truly is the measure of how we are failing to educate our children.

For instance, the concept of building Smart Education Systems aspires to promote and sustain high-quality student learning on a grass-roots level — at the school, in the home and in the local community. A smart system requires partnerships among the school district, other city agencies, cultural institutions, community groups, and businesses.

Examples of Smart Education Systems

Unlike the Bee suggests, we cannot close down schools and reestablish them again in leaner configurations. And we cannot solely abdicate our public responsibility to the corporate pressures of charter school reform and not expect to pay a high price for that surrender.

Another glaring omission in the Bee’s editorial equation is the urgent need to involve parents as education advocates. The concept of Parent U-Turn is succeeding in The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Where is a similar implementation model for SCUSD?

The solutions are out there. We need to open our eyes and roll up our sleeves.

Written by scusdobserver

October 27, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Why St. Hope is so important?

Today’s Sacramento Bee editorial page features an opinion about Sacramento Charter High School and PS7’s astounding academic performance gains.

Some of the positions stated in the editorial have merit but one glaring omission makes the entire read irrelevant: the students that these charter schools reject for behavior and academic problems get shipped out to Hiram Johnson and other SCUSD public schools — the district has no special charter rules to impose on these students and the district is mandated by law to educate everyone. St. Hope is not bound by the same rules.

The handpicking and “old guard possessiveness” that the editorial decries of St. Hope leadership doesn’t just stop at the administrative level and it’s inexcusable that the Bee’s writers miss that point.

Written by scusdobserver

June 3, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Listening first…

On today’s opinion page in the Sacramento Bee, Roy Grimes and Susan Miller write a piece: Sac City Unified is all ears about the future.


Change has to occur to meet challenging times, but this difficult period can lead to cutting-edge opportunities, new partnerships, greater transparency, more successful and innovative educational programs and stronger bonds between schools and neighborhoods.

Written by scusdobserver

February 25, 2009 at 5:30 pm

See which high schools send the most students to college

The Sacramento Bee today published a database that tracks Sacramento County’s college-bound enrollment numbers. The database tracks public (not private) high schools that graduated over 650 students between 2003 and 2007 and doesn’t include whether students actually attended or graduated from college.

What the database does not tell is how many high school students attend an apprenticeship school, find a job or enter the military after high school graduation. While it’s great to have an educated workforce, it is also vital to train craftsman, artisans and paraprofessionals.

Other counties in the database can be searched at this link.
Complete interactive database

Written by scusdobserver

January 17, 2009 at 12:37 am