Op-ED: Literacy Task Force is Off-Task

By Monie de Wit

The district brings in pricey consultants for everything you can imagine but somehow they address this overwhelming literacy problem all on their own without bringing in experts. If ever there was a case where experts are needed to draft a plan and show the way, this is it.

As a member of the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s “Literacy Task Force,” and a longtime educator, I feel the community needs to know about the top down process that did not encourage dialogue or discussion. I was expecting an opportunity for group problem-solving but it was much more like a lecture with lots of “we’ll get back to you on that”. We were invited to a series of exercises and word solving games that actually seemed unproductive. We were just running down the clock without a chance to influence what matters most to our struggling students.

I expected an agenda and handouts with a clear goal, accountability and the opportunity to work with others sharing collective wisdom and form a mission statement together that would ensure equity and continuing improvement towards 90 percent proficiency in our student body within five years. I expected to discuss, debate, and examine all reasonable options, to thoughtfully address the urgent need to teach all kids to read in the most effective way possible. Instead, there was pressure not to talk and not to share unless in a very restricted sense .

At the first meeting we were given Post-it notes and quiet time to write our ideas, with soothing cello music in the background, and apply them to large papers taped around the room. Then we were allowed to interact only with those few seated at our tables, with one person reporting back to the group. No whole group discussion was allowed. Somehow the district officials used those Post-it notes to form the basis of assumptions about how teaching reading takes place and a vision statement. Our vision statement came from their interpretation of our post- it notes… As we all learned from the bad break-up in Sex in the City, Post-it notes are no way to effectively communicate.

In the second meeting, we were required once again to work in groups, this time to add the vision statement and perform an exercise in decoding the word “defenestration.” These exercises were time-consuming and in no way addressing the urgent need to teach children to read—from K-12. The leadership I expected is sadly missing. I was hoping there would be some impartial analysis of current information. But in reality, the status quo was selectively reinforced.

The district’s resistance to allow any study, or the sharing of current articles about literacy means no additional wisdom is gained. Instead, there were multiple promises of “circling back,” which never happened. The current listening tour ends in May at which time hopefully someone makes a decision about our direction that follows science and best practices. Our needy students are counting on leaders who know something about evidenced based practices and are open to acting on them. Such a long listening tour is tone deaf to the painful realities for students who can’t read proficiently. They ought to be the ones we are listening to and acting for.

The current leadership does not seem to grasp how critical it is that all children learn to read. All they talk about is K-3 instruction when we know there is low literacy in every class and every grade. With just one more meeting scheduled, I, for one, am disheartened that something this important as addressing the low literacy in our schools is simply an exercise in futility, with a predetermined outcome, which is whatever the district officials decide they want to happen.

The community needs to know this is happening because it affects every one of us. Being able to read is vital to our community’s health and it makes for a more level playing field where everyone has doors open and everyone actualizes their dreams. The current leadership does not seem capable of making that possible nor does this task force. Will the Santa Barbara Community step up to the challenge?

[Ed Note: An earlier version of this post included the incorrect author’s name. This has been updated.]

Op-Ed’s are written by community members and local organizations. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat.
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  1. In well over a decade if “literacy task forces”. Multiple public outrages over poor academics and millions spent with zero results.
    What do children have to show for it?
    But hey, keep voting for the same people who continually fail our children. And if you vote for an incumbent, you have no right to complain.

    • The continued failures are better understood with this thought exercise: Let’s say the government wants to help hungry people. So they open up 10,000 government grocery stores all across the country and then you’re assigned one based of your address which you have to use by law unless you can afford an alternative. Now, you don’t have any say over your groceries, that will be decided by a government approved board, and if you want to make any sort of meaningful change, get ready for a multi-year battle at your local, state an federal levels in order to try and make that happen. BTW, all the people working at this government grocery store will not be rewarded based off their creativity, ingenuity, results, or work ethic, they will only be rewarded based on their seniority. It sounds like a horrible way to solve the problem but that’s exactly how were handling public education.

  2. Monie — I’m so sorry about your frustration with the task-force. Virtually all the “venues of stakeholder engagement” have devolved into unprofessional farces. Poorly run. Insincere, Purely ceremonial. A phrase that’s been going around is “public input theatre.”
    Regarding reading specifically, it’s very hard for them to look in the mirror and recognize that they’ve been doing it wrong. It’s especially hard when the issue at hand is so important and you care a LOT about getting it right. It’s also hard when your promotion to the district office to sweeten your pension dramatically requires you deferring to the tribal orthodoxy.
    Our current public education system is a bureaucratic morass… expensive, ideological, ineffective, and totally unacceptable and unfair to our kids. Math is even worse.

  3. “Poor academics are their [Dems] legacy along with increased violence in schools.” – Then how do you explain the dismal education scores in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, West Virginia, Alaska, etc? How about all the school shootings in Texas and Florida? If this is only a “dem” problem, how do you explain those?


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