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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Responses to Bonnie Reiss, Calif Sec of Education

Bonnie Reiss, California Secretary of Education, published a commentary in the Sacramento Bee, reproduced below.

Here are two letters published in the Sacramento Bee on Oct. 29, responding to Ms. Reiss' commentary:

Re: ("To fix our schools …," Oct 27)

It is offensive that people continue to attack teachers (and unions… aka... teachers collectively) for the issues in education. In addition to being a teacher, I am actively involved in my teachers’ union. Let me share some information with those who don’t seem to “get it.”

Unions are made up of teachers. We are the ones that are in the classrooms doing the work everyday. Teachers are not wealthy business people that have a stake in seeing education fail. In fact, we care about children and choose to work with them to help them succeed.

Teacher effectiveness is hotly debated. Value-added is the cry for some. However, studies show that value-added ratings are unstable. The ratings based on one year are weak predictors of value-added ratings the next year.

Reforming education requires asking help from teachers. Ask us how we know when students are learning. Ask us how we know when they don’t and what we do to support them.

You want to know how to evaluate effective teachers? Ask us how we evaluate ourselves.

Shannon Brown


Bonnie Reiss ("To fix our schools …," Oct 27) thinks that American schools have fallen behind schools in other countries.

The basis for this statement is our low scores on international tests when compared to other countries. Our scores, however, are only low because we have such a high percentage of children in poverty, compared to other countries that participate in international tests. When we consider only middle-class children who attend well-funded schools, our math scores are near the top of the world.

Our overall scores look low because the US has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (well over 20%, compared to Denmark's 3%).

Our educational system is not "broken," as Ms. Reiss claims. The problem is poverty.

Stephen Krashen

Viewpoints: To fix our schools, unions must let go of status quo

Special to The Bee, OCT. 27, 2010

Bonnie Reiss (California Secretary of Education)

The New York City Department of Education's stunning announcement that it intends to release teacher ratings based on student test scores and academic achievement is the latest example of a growing national movement to fix our country's broken public education system.

Despite legal action from the teachers union, these school leaders in New York are standing strong in their commitment to release this crucial information.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and an inspiring group of reform-driven superintendents representing more than 1 million students here in California pushed this movement forward with our state's Race to the Top proposal and legislation to make student academic growth a factor in teacher evaluations. This work continues, mainly through the courage and determination of these districts.

Parents, business leaders, civil rights groups and many teachers have reached their breaking point in hearing the continued excuses of national and state teacher unions that use their power to fight for the status quo and block significant reforms to our broken system.

Our public education system is flawed today. It does not hold the adults who care for our children accountable; it does not allow teacher evaluations based on whether students are being given the tools to succeed; it does not allow for differential pay for teachers serving in our most challenging schools, and it gives lifetime tenure usually after two to three years – making it nearly impossible to lay off ineffective teachers.

The superb documentary "Waiting for 'Superman' " shows how remarkably difficult it is for school districts to dismiss ineffective teachers. We see how one in 67 doctors lose their medical license, one in 37 lawyers lose their accreditation and one in 2,500 teachers lose their position. In California, a teacher can receive tenure after two years – no other profession provides that kind of job security. "Waiting for 'Superman' " reminds us of two truths – most teachers are good and many are great, even heroic, but the teachers unions are the enemy of reform and work to protect the status quo at every turn.

Fixing K-12 public education in America and in California is the civil rights issue of our day. As our country has doubled the amount we spend per pupil in the last few decades, our students' achievement in English, math and science has remained flat, and our poor and minority children continue to lag behind. As a result, our country has fallen behind every other major country on our planet.

Funding our schools is important; however, we must make sure to keep our focus on fixing our broken system so that funding goes to the classroom and supports a system that is based on the accountability and effectiveness of the adults in this system – the teachers, principals and administrators who serve our students.

The publishing of teacher ratings by the Los Angeles Times, and now soon the New York City Department of Education, will hopefully mark a historic turning point for our state and our nation in our quest to fix our public school system.

In California, let us continue to choose the courageous reforms that are best for our students over the status quo of the system.

Note from SK: Secretary Reiss' background (sources: Huffpost, Miliken Institute)

* Operating advisor to Pegasus Capital Advisors, a private equity firm committed to investing in and developing scarce resources, commodities and sustainable companies.

* Secretary Reiss experience includes careers as an entertainment lawyer, accountant, producer and writer from 1981 to 1988.

* … was president of the Earth Communications Office, promoting environmental causes, and practiced entertainment and public policy law. She serves on the boards of the after-school program Arnold's All-Stars, The California Dream Team and Maria Shriver's California Conference on Women and Family. Reiss received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Miami and a law degree from Antioch Law School.

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