"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why Anna Eastman should not receive your vote in the Houston School Board election

The following commentary comes from Jesse Alred, a Houston teacher and reporter:
The Houston Chronicle on Monday endorsed Anna Eastman's candidacy for the HISD school board in district 1. The editorial board, which includes some individuals who live in the same affluent corner of that district where Eastman resides, endorsed one of their own, but not the best most experienced and represenative candidate--Alma Lara.
Here are some reasons this was a frivolous and biased endorsement.

Anna Eastman's policy proposals are not concrete and don't get us from where we are to where we need to go.

Her website lists three goals—these are goals we all share: make schools better, reduce the drop out rate and increase college readiness. But she does not list one way to advance HISD toward that goal. “All our kids,” she writes, “should be exiting fifth grade at commendable levels.” Who could disagree? Why didn't we think of that?
On the drop out issue, she suggests, by working together, “we can create real communities that identify social and emotional needs, foster healthy relationships and support the whole child.” That is a whole lot of social engineering for a school district that cannot ensure all its students can read at a sixth-grade level. When she says this, Ms. Eastman is saying nothing.

Ms. Eastman correctly identifies the low quality and nutritional value of HISD cafeteria food as a problem, but does not make a specific commitment to any program or additional local spending on school lunches to provide better food for kids. Ideals are one thing--getting there is harder because every good proposal will cost something and elicit opposition.

Anna Eastman says the sorts of things all politicians say, which indicates what sort of board member she will make.

HISD has made great strides in achieving minimum standards," her website says, "a 50% increase in academically recognized and exemplary schools over the past three years.”

If I know, then she certainly knows, that many of these schools increased their rankings only because the Texas Education Agency changed the ratings system, last year counting many students as passing TAKS who did not actually pass.

It is just easier to say these positive things than deal with underlying realities when you are running for office, but it is misleading also. This perhaps indicates what sort of board member Ms. Eastman would become.

Anna Eastman's candidacy obstructs a better candidate.

Before Natasha Kamrani announced she would not seek reelection, Ms. Alma Lara declared her candidacy. Ms. Lara grew up in her district, attended its schools, was a teacher there, and then ran schools for a decade. Ms. Lara grew up in humble circumstances like our students. She understands their situation in a holistic way. She is Hispanic like over eighty percent of the students in the district.

Ms. Lara has concrete proposals to meet the needs of students our schools are failing: quality vocational programs in conjunction with HCC, apprenticeship programs in the trades, restoring reading classes in the middle schools and establishing a strategy to fight drop outs that can be monitored on a monthly basis.

By contrast, Ms. Eastman expresses ideals and goals, not specific ways to improve schools in a district that loses about one-half its kids and where only a small portion of the other one-half graduate either college or career ready.

Since Ms. Eastman and Ms. Lara are both Democrats, and Ms. Lara entered this race first, and has thirty years experience, why does Ms. Eastman think she is the better candidate?

What special qualities does Ms. Eastman have making it worth the risk of splitting the Democratic vote so Republican Linda Toyota could win in this progressive school-board district?

The only way Ms. Eastman should defeat Ms. Lara is if there is some sort of affirmative action program for young affluent parents who cannot stop congratulating themselves on sending their kids to public schools.

Anna Eastman represents not the parents and schools in her district, but a small clique who are sponsoring charter school expansion.

Natasha Kamarani, wife of YES Prep charter school founder, Chris Barbic, is Ms. Eastman's leading supporter—that is fairly well known.

The largest donor to her campaign is William Perkins. Mr. Perkins is a consultant for John Arnold, a billionaire energy trader and prominent funder of KIPP and Yes charter school expansion. Mr. Arnold originally built his fortune as a trader for Enron.

Its one thing to support charter schools; its another thing doing that from a leadership position in the district that is competing with the charters; and its another thing not to be upfront about your true agenda.

Ms. Eastman claims to be a free-thinker, an outsider not linked to any special interest group, but her campaign is largely beholden to people who sponsor private charter schools.

Ms. Perkins is also the largest contributor to the west-side school board campaign of Mike Lunceford. Another major Lunceford donor is Tony Annunziato, a KIPP expansion funder to the tune of $2 million. Winning both seats would give a small, unrepresentative and private group a lot of influence on the school board. KIPP's former treasurer Harvin Moore IV already holds one HISD board seat.

HISD needs leaders who will seek genuinely to improve neighborhood and magnet schools, not a Trojan Horse for charter schools. The charter schools can take care of themselves without this public sector version of insider trading.

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