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Ventura County Perspective

Educators, Not Politicians, Should Decide About Schools

Sacramento should figure out how much to allocate for education and then let local people choose how to spend the dollars.

May 21, 2000|STEVE BLUM | Steve Blum is president of the Ventura Unified Education Assn

Educators are faced with many obstacles to avoid, problems to solve and solutions to craft. Among these are bad ideas from Sacramento.

Many of our state legislators believe that they are education experts. Most of them have three things in common: They have never been a teacher, they have never worked in a school, and they have attended school.

Anyone who has coached a Little League team understands this. There has probably never been a Little League coach who hasn't dealt with someone who knows how the team should really be coached.

Educators deal with the same phenomenon. It seems like every lawmaker has his or her own ideas about what is best for our schools. Merit pay, year-round school, block schedules, vouchers, exit exams, accountability, longer school years, boot camps, school uniforms, national standards are just some of them.

Many of these ideas sound good. But will they actually be good?

We must be careful before we put reforms in place. We must make sure they will accomplish what we hope they will.

Take a look at an educational "solution" put into place almost 20 years ago. The "non-reelect" law requires school districts to inform second-year probationary teachers by March 15 if they are "non-reelected" to work the next year. In layman's terms, non-reelected means, "You're fired."

The law stipulates that the teacher may be "non-reelected without cause, " meaning school districts are not supposed to tell them why they are being fired. Good-intentioned people in Sacramento put this law into place, but it has had a negative effects on our schools. Here are a few:

* From March 15 to June 15 every year, thousands of children are left in the classrooms of teachers who know they will not be returning. What parents would want their children in the classroom of a fired teacher for three months?

* The extended period after a teacher is fired gets harder for everyone as time goes on. It divides the staff, undermines morale, hurts the principal's authority and can hurt the whole school.

* A teacher fired without cause leaves without a plan or a chance to improve deficiencies. Many never know why they were fired.

*

Wouldn't it be better for everyone to give the teacher an improvement plan by March 15 or even earlier and then later make the decision? Wouldn't it be more humane to tell employees what their deficiencies are and give them a chance to improve before they are fired? Wouldn't this be a lot better for the children in the classrooms of these teachers?

Those who work with children each day should have a bigger part in the decision-making process. Politicians in Sacramento have played too large a role in educational decisions. Too many of their decisions have been well-intentioned but ill-advised.

Politicians should figure out how much to allocate for education and let local school boards, local administrators, teachers and parents decide how these dollars can best be put to use.

For example, Sacramento politicians who have never set foot in a Ventura school should not be determining what is best for Ventura's schools. People who live and work in Ventura are much more qualified to make these decisions.

Sacramento politicians should stop playing Big Brother and realize that local folks can make decisions about how their schools should be run and what is best for their cities. We should "non-reelect" politicians who don't get this.

As we consider educational reform, let us move cautiously and wisely. In our haste to make changes let us make sure they are good changes, ones that will work.

A government system that acts slowly and deliberately gives people a chance to think through laws before they are put into place. Let us make sure we are doing what is actually good for children.

They cannot afford for us to make more mistakes. They are counting on us to do what is best. If we do not take good care of our children, nothing else we do as a society matters.

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