Archive | August, 2017

Headline Says Don’t Protect Worst Teachers

18 Aug

Another editorial in the San Diego Union attacks teachers and the California public education system. The author has a personal work history of harming California’s public schools by scheming to privatize them. The editorial was written by Rae Belisle. She is identified as a former member of California’s State Board of Education, but she is so much more than that.

Ms. Belise opened her attack,

“Competition for success in the 21st-century economy is increasingly tied to an educated workforce with strong science, technology, engineering and math skills.

“Parents, community and business leaders, and policy makers trying to keep and grow jobs in California should be shocked that in just a few short years California has won the race to the bottom.”

It is true that education is important to the future of any society, however, it is also important that education policy not be driven by a false narrative.

Her first sentence alludes to the widely promoted fraud that there is a Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) deficit in the US. There is not and there never was (see evidence here, here, here, here, and here). In fact, many American graduates have a difficult time finding jobs because the H1B visa program makes foreign graduates more attractive. Foreign workers are cheaper and corporations have more control over them.

Belisle echoed the language form employed by the forces for public school privatization. She says we should be SHOCKED at how California’s fourth graders living in poverty have the nation’s lowest scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Her data is correct but the implication is disinformation.

Her clear innuendo is that public schools are failing and that bad teachers are a big part of the problem.

In her editorial she does note, “Over half of California’s K-12 students are in poverty, which makes our academic decline particularly alarming.” She does not mention that in addition to shocking student poverty, California has by far the largest percentage of language learners in the nation. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2015, the national percentage of English language learners was 9.4%. California’s percentage was 22.4% followed by the state with next largest percentage of language learners, Texas at 15.4%.

A fair reading of the 2015 8th grade math data would note that California’s fourth graders are at the bottom of the nation but by the time they get to the eighth grade they have moved up nine places. Those not living in poverty are 30th out of 51 (data incudes District of Columbia). In other words, the teachers and the schools are doing their jobs in the face of a 50% poverty rate and having 22.4% of their students learning English.

Average 4-Math Calif vs Nation

A NAEP Graphic

It did not help that in the 1990’s, Belisle used her position as legal counsel for the State Board of Education to fight against bi-lingual education.

Schools cannot fix social conditions. It is political leaders that have failed to successfully address poverty and other social ills. In East Los Angeles, children are joining gangs that their great grandfather was in and we just let that disease fester. Political lawyers like Belisle blame teachers and schools for their failures and those of their paymasters.

Who is Raneene “Rae” Belisle

Belisle’s Bio at the Sacramento County Office of Education says,

“Formerly Chief Counsel to the California State Board of Education for many years, Ms. Belisle successfully defended the constitutionality of charter schools and the STAR test, and was most recently involved in the settlement of the Williams litigation.”

“… she served as Associate General Counsel and Team Leader for Government Relations with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  Her focus at LAUSD was the implementation of all aspects of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.”

When writing about the privatization of public schools in California, I recounted,

“Three key players in the assault on California’s public schools are Walmart heiress, Carrie Walton Penner, Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings and nativist republican politician, Steve Poizner. In 2001, they started EdVoice a lobbying organization that claims California schools are broken and must be reformed. In 2003 Poizner founded the CCSA. Walton Penner and Hastings remain as board members of both EdVoice and CCSA.”

After her stint, as chief counsel for the State Board of Education, she became the CEO of EdVoice. She remained in that position until 2010.

In 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her to be a member of the State Board of Education. A blogger name Sharon Higgins reported the strong opposition to her appointment.

“She was a full SBE participant for one year until March 2010 when the Senate refused to give her a confirmation hearing. They had received staunch opposition to Belisle. For instance, this was the first time in its 39-year history that the Association of California School Administrators had taken an active stance against a state board appointee, …. Belisle is a strong charter school advocate, who had previously given controversial legal advice to the SBE.”

The California Senate’s Rules Committee decided to let Belisle’s term expire and not hold a confirmation hearing. The California Watch reported on this decision:

“The opposition came from some of the most influential educational and ethnic groups in the state. Several minority groups said Belisle’s legal advice to the education board during the late 1990s to early 2000s, stripped non-English speaking students of culturally sensitive textbooks and other classroom tools.

“The California Federation of Teachers, California School Board Association and Association of Calfornia School Administrators also questioned Belisle’s objectivity.”

It is fascinating why the Hindu America Foundation opposed her so vigorously. In a legal dispute with the State Board of Education, it appears that in defending the Board, Chief Counsel Belisle tried to bully the Hindus. They conveyed:

  • Belisle warned the law firm representing HAF to “watch out” because its client [HAF] had repeatedly threatened and harassed the CDE and SBE staff.
  • Belisle claimed that everyone at the SBE was fearful of them [HAF as well as other members of the Hindu American community].
  • Belisle repeatedly referred to HAF and members of the Hindu American community as “those people” who were “very dangerous.”
  • She made it clear to HAF’s attorney that she considered the Hindu Americans challenging the Board to be religious zealots and extremists.
  • During the course of HAF’s litigation, a thorough investigation of the public records was conducted. Not a single threatening letter nor record of threatening or harassing phone calls from HAF or members of the Hindu American community were found.

Belisle’s Main Point

In this editorial, she was advocating against a proposed amendment to California’s education law, AB 1164. On Facebook, EdVoice her old company informs us Belisle was right.

AB 1164 seems to be mostly about rules for money saved by districts, but it does have one section about probationary teachers. Belisle wrote,

“If passed, AB 1164 would only allow new teachers with two years of consecutive unsatisfactory ratings — the lowest rating possible — another year in the classroom along with increased job guarantees. Other new staff who may have struggled but showed signs of promise, and earned higher ratings such as needing improvement, would not even be eligible for another year of probation.”

The paragraph of AB 1164 that offends Belisle and EdVoice says:

“Before offering a third complete consecutive school year of employment as a probationary employee to an employee of the county superintendent of schools in a teaching position in schools or classes maintained by the county superintendent of schools requiring certification qualifications, the county superintendent of schools shall provide the probationary employee with written notice that includes, at a minimum, specific information on what performance-related improvements the probationary employee must achieve in order to obtain permanent employment status after the third year of probationary status. The information provided in the written notice shall be based on evaluations or reviews conducted by a permanent employee designated to conduct the evaluations or reviews pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement or by a school administrator.”

All this paragraph does is optionally extend the probationary period for one more year. That way the district does not have to discharge a teacher they think has promise while maintaining the option to release the teacher before they earn permanent status.

The California Teacher Association takes a position on all education law. They say very little about AB 1164 other than CTA Supports.

Oddly, Belisle wrote in her editorial:

“Discouraging principals from releasing the least effective adults on probation makes no sense. Why give adults who have already proven they are failing our children an easier path to a guaranteed lifetime job? This will make things harder, especially for our most vulnerable students and the hard-working effective teachers and school leaders who are doing the difficult work every day to improve results in the most challenging classrooms.”

Belisle is a lawyer who is steeped in education law, so, she must have another agenda. This law does none of these things. It gives principal’s more options and allows them to be more critical of a teacher’s performance during the probationary period without destroying careers. This law improves professional development and seems to make developing good teachers more likely.

Belisle adds, “Thurmond’s AB 1164 is the embodiment of back-room deals in Sacramento that sell out our children.” She charges Oakland Assembly member Tony Thurmond of some sort of back-room corruption of the worst type, but it is difficult to see his motives. Maybe this is like her charge that the members of the State Board of Education feared Hindus.

Conclusion

There is some sort of agenda here, but it is not clear what it is. Why did a lawyer with a long association to the education privatization movement in California write this article? I do not know. But her associations are clear: Schwarzenegger, Hastings, Walton, EdVoice.

These are not friends of public education, unless you include the unaccountable charter school industry as public schools. I don’t. They are privatized schools run by private boards with little or no public scrutiny.

The San Diego Union continues to run anti-public-school editorials. Belisle is just another paid mouthpiece for the billionaire agenda to monetize public schools and the paper is a willing megaphone.

Board Run Public School Districts

1 Aug

It is not always pretty when the public gets a chance to voice its opinion, but it is democratic. In the last week, I attended the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) and the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) school board meetings. It was reminiscent of Dicken’s depiction of Paris and London.

Sweetwater which has been living a nightmare for most of the previous decade was like being at camp sitting around a bonfire singing “John Jacob Jinglehimer Smith.” It wasn’t quite Kumbaya but it was close.

SDUSD was the opposite. Parents, teachers and various community leaders came to engage in public debate. It was a war of words and philosophy. It was far from a Kumbaya moment. People made their case in a public forum and with one dreadful exception they did so in a respectful manner.

At SDUSD it was Sex and Islamophobia

There were two contentious issues at the SDUSD meeting; sex education and protecting Muslim students from bullying. At the July 24th school board meeting, the sex education issue was raised under the agenda item E.1, called Vision 2020 Quality Schools in Every Neighborhood or LCAP goal four.

Let me explain some school speak. There was a 2013 change in how California divides up money to districts. The new system was named the local control funding formula (LCFF). It required money earmarked for certain categories of spending – for example bilingual teacher training programs – to be bundled and distributed to districts under a certain set of rules for how the money is spent.

The California Department of Education describes the Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAP),

“The LCAP is an important component of the LCFF [Local Control Funding Formula]. Under the LCFF all LEAs [Local Education Agencies] are required to prepare an LCAP, which describes how they intend to meet annual goals for all pupils, with specific activities to address state and local priorities identified pursuant to EC Section 52060(d).

In other words, these are the plans that allow districts to spend money that used to be earmarked for certain state directed categories of spending.

LCAP goal four, focuses on SDUSD’s wellness initiative including health education and the sexual health curriculum. When the district staff finished their presentation for this initiative, the public comment period allowed anyone who wanted to make a comment speak for three minutes. To speak all people were required to do is fill out a small request form and hand it to a Board staff member.

It was like living the movie “Back to the Future” where our DeLorean had just arrived in good old 1955. A relatively large group of people apparently from the same Christian sect started denouncing the sex education curriculum as pornographic and against God’s Law. People in the audience were holding up Bibles and cheering on their speakers. The speakers were protesting the curriculum from Advocates for Youth that SDUSD adopted.

One of the main points many speakers made is that some research used by Advocates comes from the University of Indiana’s, Kinsey Institute. The institute’s web-site tells readers, “Learn more about the science-based discoveries—both past and present—that reveal the complexity of sexuality and relationships.” It also says, “Since Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s groundbreaking research in 1948, the Kinsey Institute has changed the world’s understanding of human sexuality.” Many of the opponents of Advocates for Youth indicated that the research at the Kinsey Institute is evil.

One speaker who identified himself as John Moore, a retired engineer, said we cannot trust SDUSD to select a good curriculum because they are doing such a bad job of educating students. To bolster his point, he claimed that in the latest high school exit exam (2014) there was only a 30% pass rate. A check of state education department statistics revealed that  public schools in San Diego Unified had a more than 94% pass rate.

A well-coiffed handsome man in his forties said that he was Mr. Brookes here on behalf of Ernie Sanders or at least it sounded like he said Ernie Sanders. I am pretty sure it wasn’t Bernie Sanders.

Mr. Brookes said that this sex education program was against God’s Law and that it promoted deviance and rebellion. He cited Mathew 7-12 as evidence. How “do unto others as you would have done unto yourself” fits this debate is unclear. He also said that Planned Parenthood is evil and that they support this curriculum.

More speakers advocated for the sex-education curriculum than spoke against it. A teacher who taught the program refuted many of the claims as being misinformed or just untrue. Other speakers made the case that this is a well-researched and widely used program. Advocates for Youth is the basis for sex-education in major cities throughout America.

Although disagreeing with the opposition to the new sex-education curriculum, my impression was that these were moral people who truly care about their community and family. For one who values democracy, seeing this free exchange of ideas was witnessing community based democracy at its essence. Meetings of publicly elected school boards are incubators of Americana.

The Environment Became Disrespectful

Agenda item E.2 was called “Addressing Tolerance Through the Comprehensive School Counseling and Guidance Plan.” The summary in the Board Documents says:

“… the District will not tolerate the bullying of any student; and clarifies that our Muslim students will be treated equally with respect to bullying.   A calendar of observances to be created shall include holidays of all faiths for the purpose of enhancing mutual understanding and respect ….  Staff have not been assigned specifically to address the bullying of students of any single religion; rather, ….  The District’s instructional materials are and will continue to be consistent with state standards which address all major world religions in the context of world history and culture.  …  Finally, staff is redirected from forming a formal partnership with CAIR to forming an intercultural committee which shall include representatives of from all faiths and cultures and which shall provide input to District staff on issues of cultural sensitivities and the individual needs of various subgroups within our diverse community.”

This statement modifies much of the stance the school board took on April 4 when it adopted its plan to deal with Muslim students being bullied. The April 4 board document summary covering this topic said:

“This report will focus on the district’s plan to address Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslim students and their families, as directed by the Board of Education on July 26, 2016.  This plan, developed in collaboration with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and in alignment with AB 2845, is being brought forward for formal board adoption.”

That April 4, staff presentation listed several actions the district would take including:

  • Review district calendars to ensure Muslim Holidays are recognized
  • Provide resources and strategies to support students during the upcoming month of Ramadan
  • Explore and engage in formal partnerships with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Charles LiMandri, President and chief council for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fundfiled a lawsuit in federal court may 22, 2017 on behalf of Citizens for Quality Education San Diego; San Diego Asian Americans for Equality Foundation; Scott Hasson; Haoyin He; Xuexun Hu; Kevin and Melissa Steel; and Jose Velazquez. The individuals all were on behalf of their minor children. The key complaint in the lawsuit is:

“Under the guise of this antibullying program, Defendants have fallen in with the aforementioned religious organization to set up a subtle, discriminatory scheme that establishes Muslim students as the privileged religious group within the school community. Consequently, students of other faiths are left on the outside looking in, vulnerable to religiously motivated bullying, while Muslim students enjoy an exclusive right to the School District’s benevolent protection.”

Charles Limandri the Rancho Santa Fe lawyer who filed this lawsuit is a well-known activist in conservative causes. He was a vocal supporter of Proposition 8, the 2008 California initiative that banned same-sex marriage. His Defense Fund profile says of Limandri:

“Since 1983, he has handled numerous high-profile civil law and pro-bono religious liberty cases including defending the Mt. Soledad Cross, San Diego Firefighters, Priests for Life, JONAH and many other organizations in state and federal courts, as well as before the United States Supreme Court. Currently, Mr. LiMandri is defending David Daleiden, Founder of the Center for Medical Progress, who is being investigated for his Human Capital Project, which used undercover video to expose the abortion industry’s buying and selling of aborted baby body parts.”

The San Diego Union reported on some of Limandri’s comments about this lawsuit.

“LiMandri said parents and his law firm have other problems with the district’s actions, including its partnership with the Council for American-Islamic Relations, which he said has a mission ‘to change American society and advance radical Islam.’”

‘“Of particular concern is the School District’s active collaboration with CAIR, which has longstanding, verified ties to radical Islam,’ LiMandri said in a statement ….”

“LiMandri said the lawsuit against the district is not asking for any monetary relief, although San Diego Unified could face a hefty legal fee if the case continues into a lengthy fight.”

The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund which runs out of LiMandri’s law office in Ranch Santa Fe is associated with a national network of conservative legal organizations under the umbrella of The Alliance Defending Freedom. This association of more than fifty organizations includes The Heritage Foundation, National Organization for Marriage, and the Federalist society.

The San Diego Asian Americans for Equality Foundation which put its name on the lawsuit seems to be an active political organization in San Diego working to protect the rights and further the interests of Asian Americans. The other organization that is party to the lawsuit, Citizens for Quality Education San Diego was founded by Mary Baker and is almost non-existent with no web-page or Facebook page.

Mary Baker is acting President of the San Diego/Orange County Chapter for the non-profit organization, Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights and is co-founder and member of Citizens for Quality Education—San Diego. Mary serves on two Executive Boards as President of California Federation of Republican Women—Southern Division and Rancho Bernardo Republican Women Federated.

At the school board meeting, so many people signed up to speak on this issue that the board limited everyone to one minute. Almost all speakers spoke in support of the boards original April decision and urged the board to continue with its plan to create formal partnership with Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

The speaker representing the Jewish Defense League said that if one community is unsafe then all communities are unsafe.

The San Diego Education Association representative called for profession development highlighting the needs to combat Islamophobia.

Mr. Contreras from the San Diego High School PTA urged the board to work with CAIR and address Islamophobia.

A former SDUSD student said that Muslim hate crimes have increased 800% since 2001 and that his little sister in middle school was being bullied – including having students try to pull off her hijab.

Board member, John Lee Evans, made the point that all students needed to be protected from bullying but from time to time in America, certain communities become targets and they need special attention.

A man in the audience started screaming: “obey the law you criminals”, “we don’t want sharia law”, “you’re a bunch of criminals that’s why you are being sued”. He continued angrily screaming over speakers especially board members for an extended period.

A very frustrated looking school board President, Richard Barrera responded, “If we are getting this kind character attack, we can see what our students are dealing with.”

All the board members of SDUSD seem to be quality reasoned people. They clearly backed down on this issue and I don’t blame them. Even if they feel the lawsuit against them is without merit, they must deal with the reality of budget constraints. Limandri said he is not asking for any monetary relief, but pointed out that SDUSD could face a hefty legal bill if a lengthy fight ensues. Limandri’s allies have very deep pockets and this seems to be an issue they want to embrace.

A Trauma Informed District

In Chula Vista, the new school year has started with many words of praise for the school board and Superintendent Karen Janney. For many years construction company money influenced board elections and successive superintendents had used access to that money to control board members. Through these dark times, people like Nick Marinovich of the Bond Oversite Committee spoke out about the excesses and blocked many corrupt actions by publicly airing them at board meetings.

Eventually members of the construction industry, the superintendent of schools and four of five board member of Sweetwater Union High School (SUHSD) district pleaded guilty to felony corruption charges. A newly elected board has been in place for three years and they have brought such positive change that Marinovich and several other community members who used to battle against a corrupt board are giving heartfelt praise. At the same time, saying they will still be watching and taking positions that the board and the superintendent might not like.

The big news at the July 24th board meeting was that SUHSD starting this school year will be a 100% trauma informed district. A new district discipline policy was presented. The presenter made it clear that this was not a plan in which students can do whatever they want with no consequences, but a constructive plan that includes restorative justice principles. Dr. Joe Fulcher and his team have been working on this plan for the past two years and they feel ready for full implementation in the 2017-2018 school year.

SUHSD Discipline Plan

Only at public schools with elected school boards, is the public allowed meaningful participation. Democracy is messy but it engenders the wisest outcomes. Don’t allow public schools to be stolen from your community by fantasy reform like Betsy DeVos’s siren song of school choice.