Sunday, April 18, 2010

State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidates: Part Two


The economic crisis in the state
There are three candidates for Superintendent who have any reasonable chance to win; Gloria Romero,  Tom  Torlakson, and  Larry  Aceves.
Romero and Torlakson have similar advantages and disadvantages.  They are both termed out legislators seeking a new position, not leaders in education.  A prior post examined Romero’s role and position.
While the eduwonks and Romero  continue their efforts and California achievement scores remain stagnant, others look to the immediate economic crisis that California and 42 other states find themselves in.
The Governor and elected officials discuss the economic crisis as if  the crisis is a neutral act, or as if a natural act- like rain or snow.   But, the  California school budgets are  a disaster not because of   some natural phenomena.  The crisis was created by people and policies of the federal  government and of the financial system.

This  economic crisis was created by finance capital and banking, mostly on Wall Street particularly  Chase Banks, Bank of America, Citi Group, AIG, and others – not by teachers and not by students. Finance capital produced a $ 2 trillion bailout of the financial industry, the doubling of US  unemployment rate and the loss of 2 million manufacturing jobs in 2008.  Fifteen million people are out of work.
Dean Baker of the  Center for Economic and Policy Research says it this way,

"The reality is that we got into this mess because of an overwhelming excess of greed and stupidity on the part of the Wall Street bankers and the people deciding economic policy. We continue to face excessive rates of unemployment because of a continuing reluctance to pursue policies that can restore the economy to health.
Dean Baker

Rather than  slash school budgets and lay off  teachers,  an appropriate response would be to tax the banks  and the financial trades.  We pay a 8% sales tax in California.  There should be at least a 3% tax on sales of stocks and derivatives and financial instruments. Such a tax could fund the schools and slow down the excesses of  casino capitalism.  
 The US
The UThspends less per student than 16 other modern industrialized countries . Moreover, of these, we are the only country that does not actively promote equality of educational opportunity. In the Netherlands, for example, schools receive 25 percent more funding for each lower-income child and 90 percent more funding for each minority child than in the United States (Slavin, 1998). Clearly, schools serving working-class students and cultural minorities fail in large part because our nation refuses to invest in its children.
 Our economy needs well-educated workers. We cannot permit schools to continue to fail. When schools succeed for the middle class and fail for working-class students and students of color, schools contribute to a crippling division along economic and racial lines in our society. Schools, as public institutions, must find ways to offer all children equal educational opportunity.

Let us be clear about the reality of schools in our nation. Some middle-class schools could benefit from reform, but most middle-class schools work reasonbly well. . Many  schools in urban areas, however, are unable to provide the equal educational opportunity called for by our national ideals and by constitutional law. There will be no significant change in the quality of education without substantial new funds allocated to these schools.
            Neo liberal reformers, although they  claim to be influenced by business management theories, miss use recent developments in management theory.  They fail to recognize that  teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.  Most large city schools are highly bureaucratized and control oriented institutions-  based upon a high level of control and distrust – as is the federal legislation NCLB.   Modern management theory recognizes that in personnel-intensive workplace, control does not work well.
Having explored the conflict between the two legislators, now lets turn to the candidacy of Larry Aceves.  Aceves is a retired school superintendent with extensive experience in the classroom and in school management.  He is not campaigning for one of the eduwonk projects of instant school reform which we know do not work.  His primary supporters are school administrators up and down the state. He clearly has their respect.  On the other hand, these administrators are not teachers. Most are former teachers.  The teachers’ union endorsements of  Toralkson are more impressive. 
Aceves represents the argument that what we need currently is an education professional who can lead the state office.  He has the experience in educational administration and leadership to make this case.  And, as noted, the prior two  Superintendents were former elected officials.
The teachers and the children in 85% of the schools need a Superintendent who  is knowledgeable about public schools, can lead and provide support.  The teachers and the students in the other 15% of schools need a Superintendent  who can work with the Obama Administration to develop, fund, and guide a turn around strategy.  For most schools,  the primary issue at present is the budget and response to the economic crisis.  Nothing in Aceves’  interviews nor promotional literature responds to the urgent issue of making the public, the legislature, and the governor understand  how the financial crisis is hurting public education.
The  protracted economic decline of the Great Recession has had a devastating impact on the California budget and the budgets of our schools. Revenues have continued to plunge and legislatures have made a series of deep cuts.  The crisis of state and local budgets, and thus of school budgets, will be even more severe next year when the current economic stimulus runs out.
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Both Torlackson and Romero were in the legislature this year and had the opportunity to lead in responding to the budget crisis.  They did not.  They, like other politicians looked the other way and treated the calamitous economic crisis as a natural event, one not caused by specific policies and one not requiring policy responses.
Given the above,  if you prefer someone who can deal with the legislature, you should vote for Torlackson.  However, do not expect him to be able to gain significant funds for the schools. – It has not happened.
If you prefer someone who knows k-12 education well and who could guide and lead the state school bureaucracy, then vote for Aceves. The choice is not clear to me.

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