Opinion: Education and Performance
By Lou Segal
The three most important words in education are performance, performance, performance
There is a saying that the three most important words in real estate are location, location, location. This is not rocket science for anyone with a cursory understanding of real estate economics. What should be equally obvious is the three most important words in education are performance, performance, performance, which for some inexplicable reason seems to be beyond the comprehension of many of our school leaders and board members. The important question we need to ask is why do the citizens of our community tolerate low performing schools, and why does there seem to be no one who can fix the problem?
The facts are pretty depressing for anyone who cares about this topic. There is no immutable law which says we have to put up with schools where up to 70% of the students are failing math or English or can’t read or write at grade level.
The number one problem is that consumers of public education in our state have little or no say in running our schools. Instead, a coalition of teacher unions and Sacramento politicians, the latter dependent on the former for campaign funds, have managed to co-opt the established order by incorporating a blizzard of byzantine rules in an archaic and inscrutable educational code, controlling almost every facet of school governance. They have managed to tie the hands of almost every school principal in the state.
Think of it this way: If you were told you were going to be put in charge of an organization and you were going to be held accountable for its performance, and yet you were powerless to honestly evaluate the labor force (many tenured teachers in Santa Barbara are evaluated only once every five years), fire ineffectual employees or reward employees for superior performance, you might be a bit leery to take the job. This is precisely the position we put our school principals in every day of the school year.
Furthermore, we exacerbate the problems when we take away the flexibility from local school leaders and teachers to choose the most effective curriculum for their students, or to adjust the length of the school day and year for students who are falling behind academically. We even make it hard to retrain or reassign teachers based on performance. In effect, we have a powerful union representing teachers with inordinate influence over California legislators that sees its primary mission to preserve the status quo, even it means protecting low performing teachers regardless of the damage it causes students.
Today, we are reminded of the formidable influence of teachers’ unions because of their refusal to allow many schools to safely reopen. It is undeniable we are jeopardizing the social, emotional and behavioral health of our students, as well as their academic progress. We have many studies of school re-openings in other states and countries, and the overwhelming conclusion is it can be done safely without endangering our children, teachers and parents.
Since there will be institutional and bureaucratic resistance to making the necessary changes to improve performance, it is all the more important we put people on our school boards who are unafraid and bold. It is painfully obvious that the current group of school board incumbents either do not have the requisite skills to enact policies to benefit students or lack the commitment to take the necessary steps to improve academic performance, since the problem of low-test scores has not changed in any significant way during their time in office. On November 3, the voters will have a chance to hold the incumbents accountable by giving others running against them the opportunity to fix our broken schools.
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