Don't punish schools for achievement gaps

A recent, glowing article praised the enthusiasm and success of Jan Goodman as she retires after eight years as principal of Ruby Bridges Elementary School.

This well-deserved praise comes at the same time we are evaluating the eye-opening decision in the Vergara v. California case in which the judge said current teacher tenure policies in California are unconstitutional. The rational was essentially that tenure allows a large number of poorly performing teachers to remain in their jobs with many of them assigned to high-poverty schools, resulting in unequal educational opportunities.

Ruby Bridges elementary has, from its beginning in 2006, ranked in the high-poverty category with 50 percent of its students at or near the poverty level. Such schools are also often Title 1 schools that receive additional federal funding. Over the past few years, Ruby Bridges has trailed behind the top three performing schools in Alameda, (Amelia Earhart, Bay Farm and Edison), by more than 100 points on language and math API tests.

We could then say this is a failed school as measured by federal and state standards and subject to performance enhancement programs, including staff changes. That term does not seem to apply to Ruby Bridges since, when measured against schools with similar demographics, it has outperformed them on state tests since its second year.


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This achievement should be applauded as Principal Goodman did when praising her remarkable staff. Can we then conclude that staff and administrators are not the issue at Ruby Bridges, and possibly other similar schools, since demographics are what is being measured, and not the quality, experience, skills or even the tenure status of its staff?

Would Ruby Bridges close their 100-point gap if they had a different faculty, or would they achieve this if their students came from a different demographic, one more like that which the top-scoring Alameda elementary schools serve?

Changing demographics is a long and difficult process, and one that the education community can be a part of, but not one for which it should bear the major responsibility.

Public school teachers have always needed to deal with the student body that arrives at the schoolhouse door. For the most part they continue to do quite well for the almost 90 percent of all U.S. students who attend public schools.

Recent polls have shown that nearly two-thirds of parents are satisfied with their public schools, including their teachers and principals. We need to be careful that we don't destroy what has been working, such as what we have seen at Ruby Bridges, as we lurch toward radical solutions to problems that are not ones that can be solved by the education community alone.

Hugh Cavanaugh

Thanks to LDS crews for park service work

The Alameda Recreation and Park Department would like to thank the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for their extensive volunteer work in Alameda Parks this spring. More than 60 volunteers completed projects at three parks during a recent sunny Saturday afternoon.

At Lincoln Park, they painted the Recreation Shack that is used for ARPD's free Parks & Playgrounds program for elementary-age children. They also painted the exterior of the public restrooms/park maintenance shop. At Jackson Park, the volunteers painted the Isabelle Clark Memorial Bench; and at Towata Park, they did extensive weeding and trash pickup. In addition, skilled volunteers are now working hard at McKinley Park to refinish cabinets, replace countertops and install appliances.

We greatly appreciate the volunteers' dedication to keep our parks well-maintained, safe and accessible. And a big thank-you goes to Barbara Rassmussen, who coordinates the work efforts and serves as a strong bridge between ARPD and the volunteer crew.

Amy Wooldridge

director, Alameda Recreation and Park Department

If you've yet to hear, we're in a drought

The governor declared California to be in a state of drought emergency in January.

I have been shocked to see people, here in Alameda and elsewhere, hosing down their sidewalks just to remove leaves. There is a better, faster and more efficient way to clean your sidewalks and driveways: the rake, broom and dustpan have been the low-tech solution for at least a few hundred years.

Please don't pour our drinking water down gutters and storm drains. That is the most thoughtless example of waste ever.

Elisabeth Eliassen

Bullet train similar to the Golden Gate

Issues of transportation, low-income housing, even affordable housing for the middle class, green energy and jobs with a future are important concerns that need immediate attention by federal, state and local authorities. The bullet train offers the hope of leading the state into the future.

Surprisingly for me, the ballot measure for the bullet train passed as the state was on the cusp of financial disaster. Despite American pragmatism that only looks as far as the end of its nose, the bullet train envisions a healthy hope for the future for our state.

We may have to make some unpleasant sacrifices, but that is as American as believing in a future of self-rule. If the naysayers of the 1930s had prevailed, the Golden Gate Bridge would not have been built.

Frederick S. Hill

Oakland