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Our Readers Write

July 27, 2011

School board election needs contest of ideas

“Your son got Mrs. X for math? She hasn’t rewritten tests since two textbooks ago. My daughter had her last year — a total nightmare.”

It’s no secret: There are superstar teachers and dud teachers in La Cañada Unified School District — many parents can name them. Yet the district continues to be strong-armed into pretending these differences don’t exist.

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The teachers union contract with the district constrains the school board and administrators, limiting the district’s ability to enforce best practices against the will of teachers, to compensate them based on merit, and more.

A contract of more than 100 pages limits schools’ management toward promoting student achievement, resulting in only about three tenured teachers’ dismissal in 12 years. While our district has much to be proud of, it can do more.

For example, the district negotiated better teacher observations, but failed to address major concerns: (1) the contract permits infrequent evaluations and rampant self-evaluation; (2) the board took years to demand previous evaluation data, and it’s unclear who will own the results of new observations; and (3) evaluation outcomes appear to remain inconsequential.

There are consequences, however. Hillside Learning Center remains an attractive way to fill gaps, and while we can continue to promote the status quo by trumpeting our relative success on standardized tests in California, the absolute values of our scores should alarm a community as committed to education as ours. Five-year averages of LCUSD students meeting (exceptionally minimal) statewide standards dip as low as 54% in some subjects.

These issues are not new, but the need for effective action has never been more urgent. In good times, ineffective management is worrisome; in bad times, it’s destructive. Yet we have upcoming school board elections, with only two candidates so far expressing interest in two seats.

We must have a vigorous election, as we can ill afford a virtual coronation. We must have a contest of ideas, rather than more promises of more money to deliver more of the same. We must add voices to provoke this conversation and we must do so before the filing deadline — even if I have to do it myself.

Andrew Blumenfeld

La Cañada Flintridge

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