Tom Goodman’s “Reformster” Thinking

21 Feb

Columnist Fred Dickey from the San Diego Union recently wrote about former Superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, Tom Goodman. Goodman’s tenure (1971 to 1982) is widely considered the most controversial period in the district’s history.

Here are some quotes from Dickey’s column:

“He decries ‘the power of the unions and their representatives that control school board members, the Legislature and the executive branch.’”

 “Goodman is a strong proponent of charter schools, which he says can be tailored to the needs of individual students, their interests and levels of achievement. All made possible, he adds, by freedom from bureaucratic foot-dragging and teachers’ union control.”

 “’To get almost any teaching job in California under current law, you must pay into the labor union and be bound by its actions,’ he said. ‘To me, that takes away the focus on being a professional. Why do they need a union if they have civil service protection?’”

 “He decries that more teachers today don’t share the dedication that was common when he started.”

 Goodman’s last job, “and perhaps his proudest” was with Education Management Systems in the Los Angeles area where he supervised many store front independent-learning charter schools called Opportunities to Learn. Under his leadership (2003 to 2009), the schools expanded from serving 7,000 students to 33,000 students.

Three decades earlier, when he was forced out in San Diego, two issues stood out as causes; harsh battles with the teachers union and plans to shutter 27 schools to save money. The San Diego Union reported that it was around the closing schools issue that the infamous Bob Filner started his political career when he felt disrespected by Goodman and the school board.

 “A San Diego State University history professor and parent-teacher association president, Filner couldn’t understand why Hardy [Elementary] was on a list of 27 schools being considered for consolidation and closure to save money. Parents loved the school and it was jam-packed with students.”

 Filner eventually became President of the Board of Education and spearheaded the replacement of Goodman with the soon to be very popular Tom Payzant.

The San Diego Union reported recently:

 “In 2014, San Diego County had 124 charter schools, compared to 73 in 2009. About 20 percent of students in the San Diego Unified School District have turned to charters, with the district projecting that figure to climb to 30 percent in 10 years— largely due to the popularity and growth of independent- study charters.”

 Isn’t it time to ask if unfettered independent-study charters like the ones Goodman ran in Los Angeles are a good idea? In my school district (Sweetwater), all of the high schools have a learning center. If students are not on track to graduate they are assigned to these independent-study centers to make up credits often while still attending classes in the regular high school.

Independent-study charters take on any student who walks into the strip mall and signs up. Many of us believe the social aspect of schooling is an important part of American democracy and student growth. These kinds of schools likely have some negative impacts on society that should be studied. Are these the kind of schools taxpayers want established with little understanding, oversight, or planning?

The education writer Peter Green recently wrote: “One of the great lies of the charter-choice movement is that you can run multiple school districts for the price of one.” The fact is that fixed costs for school districts don’t go down much when they lose students and taxpayers are being forced to pay for redundant school administrations.

In the same piece Green also noted:

“The other common response of a school district to the loss of revenue to charters is to raise local taxes. If charters want to look at where some of their bad press is coming from, they might consider school boards like mine that regularly explain to the public, ‘Your local elementary is closing and your taxes are going up because we have to give money to the cyber charters.’”

Last year (2014), The Voice of San Diego ran an article called “The Charter Tipping Point” that provided evidence that San Diego is becoming a duel school system with too many schools of the same type in some areas.

When Goodman came back to San Diego in 2011, he became an education expert consultant to San Diegans 4 Great Schools. This group financed in large part by Irwin Jacobs, the founder of QUALCOMM, and philanthropist Rod Dammeyer proposed expanding the San Diego Unified School Board by adding four appointed trustees. The proposal was rejected by San Diegans.

Goodman was an early proponent of closing schools to improve education and he supported limiting democracy. At heart, he probably really cares about education but I don’t like his thinking. He was a “reformster” before there was big money backing his ideology.

My observation is quite different than Mr. Goodman’s when it comes to young teachers. I see nothing but exemplary commitment and dedication by our newest educators.

All “reformsters” are anti-union, but there is an inconvenient truth; throughout the world the top performing schools have teachers unions and the worst performing schools do not.

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