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Santa Barbara County, CA November 6, 2012 Election
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The Crisis in our Public Schools

By Lou Segal

Candidate for Board Member; Santa Barbara Unified School District

This information is provided by the candidate
This is an article I wrote which appeared as a guest commentary in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
The Crisis in our Public Schools

By Lou Segal, Candidate for the Santa Barbara School District Board of Trustees

Most people I talk to about our public schools are vaguely aware that the schools are not performing as well as they should. However, when I proceed to tell them that in many grades in the Santa Barbara schools more than half of the students are not proficient in math and/or English, there is great surprise. That surprise usually leads to shock when I also tell them that less than a third of the high school graduates are able to complete two years of postgraduate education, not to mention four-year colleges. The disbelief is usually magnified when they learn that up to 90% of high school graduates require remedial instruction in English and math in our community colleges. Regrettably, this dismal performance of our public schools will have serious public policy consequences for our country. We are at risk of having an entire generation of kids whose prospects for a productive life are becoming increasingly remote.

Although I don't have enough space here to properly inventory the list of problems plaguing our schools, I would like to touch upon a couple. It has been well documented by many academic and research studies that the most important school factor in determining whether a child will succeed in school is the quality of the teaching. It has been shown that a great teacher can increase the likelihood of a child's success by three times. A great teacher, by dint of his/her personality and teaching skills, can motivate and make learning fun for the most learning-challenged students. Great teachers are enthusiastic, charismatic, persevering and love working with children. The very best teachers can make the most challenging children believe in their ability to succeed in school.

Unfortunately, today we are stuck with a collection of rules and edicts, which make it almost impossible to ensure that every classroom has a great teacher. Because of tenure, seniority and last-in-first-out (lifo) rules, administrators are unable to dismiss ineffective teachers. In California, less than 1/10 of 1% of teachers are removed because of poor performance. In Santa Barbara, there was only one teacher fired due to performance related issues in the last five years. In most schools, 100% of teachers receive the same satisfactory grade, even though it is highly unlikely that all teachers are performing at the same level. Incredibly, until last year, credentialed and tenured teachers were only evaluated once every five years in the Santa Barbara District. High-performing teachers were often paid less than their less accomplished colleagues due to their lack of seniority. A particularly egregious incident resulting from these misguided rules occurred in 2010 when the Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year was dismissed because of her lack of seniority.

In order for a school district to work for all children, these archaic rules need to change. However, even with new rules, a school will not achieve the expected level of performance unless the culture of the school changes. Everyone, from the principals, the teachers, the administrators and even the janitorial staff, has to share a no excuse, can-do attitude, where failure is not an option. In this environment, everyone is continuously evaluated and held accountable. There are high expectations for the students and a presumption that all children will master the fundamentals of math, English, and the other core subjects. In my study of schools that serve low income and minority communities, I found many examples of such schools. Many of them actually send 100% of their students to college. The residents of Santa Barbara deserve no less; they should all feel their children are getting an education that prepares them for the challenges awaiting them in the 21st Century.

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ca/sba Created from information supplied by the candidate: October 28, 2012 14:25
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