Wednesday, October 21, 2009

PTA Discussion about Suspensions

Tonight at the Almond PTA forum, I was asked a question about a statement I made to the Board last year regarding the district's suspension policy.

In the spirit of being open, at the PTA meeting I volunteered to make public my correspondence with the Board on this matter. I discussed this topic with my wife, and upon reflection, I'd prefer not to post the full text becuase it involves both my daughter's school record as well as that of another student. In the age of the internet, once something is "out there", it's out there forever.

However, I also want to respect what I said in the meeting. I don't have anything to hide on this topic. Therefore, if anyone is interested to read the correspondence, please contact me ( and I'll be pleased to meet with you to allow you to read a printed copy of the entire document, minus the name of the other student, of course.

The crux of my concern was best summarized by this paragraph, taken from my first contact with the district on this topic:

The state guidelines specifically say that suspension should not be used for a first offense unless the student presents a severe threat to other students. No reasonable person could interpret what occurred as a serious intent to physically harm another student. In fact, the state guidelines say that suspension is appropriate for a first offense only in the case of firearms, knives, selling of controlled substances, sexual assault, or possession of explosives. I believe we are all in agreement that none of those circumstances is present in this case.

I think that Mark Goines' comments on the topic this evening reflected a desire for more flexibility in the policy, which is consistent with my own views. We need to make sure our educators and adminstration have a range of options and exercise good judgement within that range. Again, I'm happy to meet with people and explain this in further detail should you be so inclined.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Way to go, Joe

SB19 passed this weekend, for which we should all be grateful.

SB19 unwound a previous bad law that was hurting every public education student in California. Some time ago, we wrote into law a "firewall" that prohibited using test scores to evaluate teacher performance. I won't debate why the law passed, but I will say plainly that I'm pleased it was repealed.

There are two big wins here. One is financial. The Obama administration has earmarked $4.5B for improving schools. One of the specific requirements to be eligible for that funding was -- you guessed it -- that the recipients had to permit the use of test scores in teacher evaluation. Even if it were only for mercenary reasons, it was a good idea to pass this law. The State of California simply can't afford not to be eligible for this funding.

The second reason this is good news is just plain common sense. Evaluating employees can be very difficult. Just because something is difficult doesn't mean you shouldn't try, though. In private industry, good companies devote tremendous effort to understanding who is contributing, who isn't making the grade, and what we can do to help those who are struggling to learn from those who are stars. Teaching is on of the most important professions. Wouldn't it stand to reason that we want to use every tool available to figure out who is doing well and who needs more coaching?

To be clear, I don't think test scores should be the be-all, end-all for evaluations. It should only be a piece of the puzzle. Still, this opens the door for a meaningful dialogue to evaluate employees on the basis of quantifiable data along side the more subjective observations. Thank goodness for common sense.