The recent guest commentary "Teachers aren't to blame for most of schools' problems" addressed a number of important educational issues. Focusing on the Vergara v. California case currently in the courts, the author also points to "misleading and false statements that only serve to distract us from the real problems facing our schools."
I agree with many of her conclusions and join the fray to encourage sensibility as we confront these important matters relative to education.
While I was disappointed with a blame statement, calling former Oakland Unified Superintendent Tony Smith one of "a string of carpetbaggers to descend on Oakland," we should not let that dissuade us from seeking to make sure educational reform does not become so demonized and politicized that we lose focus on teaching and learning.
I would like that focus, for the sake of reason, to be on the valid educational issues raised:
Bill Gates and Eli Broad to Michelle Rhee and Tony Smith and many others, possess limited or no classroom teaching experience and seek to reform by placing blame.
The ongoing Vergara v. California case represents that laws protecting teachers' rights punish children, especially in our poorest neighborhoods.
Students are punished by chronic underfunding of education in California resulting in lack of breadth in the curriculum and insufficient support services affecting class-size, balance between new and veteran teachers, less than effective administrative practices, difficult working conditions and low salaries.
The laws currently on the books provide all the tools needed to dismiss ineffective teachers.
There is a lack of common criteria for determining what constitutes effective teaching.
Both "sides" of the debate rely on data to support their position. It is more likely that there are more perspectives than two. Columnist Kate Scannell said, "the hard facts of Big Data become so soft and malleable in varied human hands, and solid data points often transform into flexible storylines." Using data as proof can leave everyone wondering what is true, what does it mean and what should we do?
Regardless of interpretations, data should encourage us to not only seek solutions and reform, but support the needs of children and their teachers in our educational environs.
This will require the use of a broad base of interrelated issues assessments, which unfortunately must allow for litigation led by opposing parties.
Perhaps we have come to not trust our systems and we feel the need to resort to blame.
I hope it is not too late to reason together, utilizing the institutions and processes already available to us. I am hoping the local control and accountability plan and local control funding formula process will bolster this kind of dialogue and reform.
Clearly, teachers unions and all other bargaining units' prime objectives include ensuring their members are protected, by means of due process, from unfair, arbitrary, unsafe and inequitable treatment. By the same token, those claiming to represent the children have an obligation to seek and protect equitable access and outcomes in accessing an appropriate education.
It is a shame that blame and litigation have become the methods of choice for reform. In general, we don't fire students. Should we be firing teachers or should we be using data to reteach or redirect? And shouldn't we support and reform our systems?
Norman D. Fobert is board president of the San Lorenzo Unified School District.