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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 10/13/2010

A different vision from a different superintendent

By Valerie Strauss

This open letter was written by Supt. Jonathan P. Raymond of the Sacramento City Unified School District. Dated Oct. 7, the message portrays a vision of how to improve schools that is far different from the one presented in the “reform manifesto” signed by 16 school superintendents and chancellors -- including Washington D.C.'s Michelle Rhee and New York City's Joel Klein -- and published in The Washington Post. That document is large on rhetoric and empty of substance. Raymond’s vision is a whole lot clearer.


Dear Colleagues:
From magazine covers to movie screens to MSNBC’s Education Nation, public schools are a growing topic of national discourse. This interest is understandable. With economic recovery slow, unemployment high and a barrage of data about how American students stack up against their global counterparts, many across the country worry about the status of public education.

On Saturday, I attended a screening of the documentary “Waiting for Superman” and participated in a panel discussion that followed. The film tells the story of five families fed-up with low-performing schools in their neighborhoods and their attempts to enroll their children in higher-performing charters.

I came away from the movie with an overwhelming sense that we have to stop blaming teachers for problems that have multiple causes, ranging from poor administrative oversight and accountability to a lack of parent engagement. I know how hard teachers work to educate every child and challenge students at their ability level. We need to work equally hard to give our teachers the tools and supports they need to be successful. Let’s stop scapegoating and come together to find solutions that work.

The other takeaway, for me, in “Waiting for Superman,” is the idea that innovation is crucial to improving public schools. This is why charters can be an important part of a district portfolio: Charters have certain freedoms to innovate and those ideas can be borrowed and replicated.

But we have to remember that innovation isn’t exclusive to charter schools.

Last week, 80 educators from across Northern California gathered at Health Professions High School for a site visit and to observe a “salon” session, an innovative, teacher-organized, teacher-led approach to improving student learning.

During a salon, teachers work together to find best practice strategies that all faculty can then apply in their classrooms. At last Monday’s session, teachers collaboratively hammered out what an effective collegiate-level research paper should look like – a desired outcome that creates a standard for the school.

The educators who observed the salon in a fishbowl activity assumed that Health Professions, with its other ground-breaking approaches to high school curriculum, was a charter. In fact, when Health Professions was proposed there was discussion about whether to make it a charter.

It is not. Health Professions is a school at the edge of a federally funded housing project. It serves mostly low-income students (66 percent qualify for a free- or reduced-price lunch) and mostly underrepresented minorities (35 percent African American; 37 percent Latino). And it grew 24 points on the Academic Performance Index last year. Of its 2010 graduates, 100 percent are enrolled in college. Additionally, about a third of those students received a “diploma of excellence,” meaning they put in 100 hours of community service or more during their four years in high school.

If we want to counter the notion that only charters hold the key to the future of public education, we must be willing to embrace successful innovations and push ourselves to do better.

Finally, while charters are an option for some, the overwhelming majority of children in this district attend traditional public schools. These are the schools that serve foster kids and homeless kids, kids whose parents are in jail, kids who themselves have been in jail.

That’s not an excuse for failure. But that’s reality. Those are the kids that come through our doors. To quote one of our teachers, “the real Superman – and Superwoman -- is the teacher who educates these kids.”

Waiting for Superman” gets its title from Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a 97-block area in New York City that includes two respected charter schools. As a kid in the Bronx, Canada was crushed the day he learned that Superman is fictional. Canada says: “I was crying because no one was coming with enough power to save us.”

There is no magic bullet to our problems, no easy answers. But collectively and collaboratively, I believe we have enough power to change the lives of the children we serve. And for that, we all deserve a cape.

Sincerely,
Jonathan P. Raymond
Superintendent


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By Valerie Strauss  | October 13, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  jonathan p. raymond, klein rhee manifesto, manifesto, michelle rhee, reform manifesto, sacramento schools, school reform, supt. raymond  
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Comments

I applaud Supt. Raymond for speaking out against the tide of propaganda the fans of Waiting for Superman (and neoliberal education policies) love to trot out. Much of it is highly misleading, some of it by design, some of it out of ignorance.

Unfortunately, the tide Supt. Raymond is up against, along with the rest of the non-blame-the-teacher/union crowd, does not include just the well-known foes, ie, the private sector, the politicians in their grasp (the current reform wave is Democrat led, Republican loved, wholly bipartisan) and the mainstream media.

Unfortunately, one of the foes teachers and union members are up against, in my opinion, is right there in the fold. I am talking about the union. I am talking about RANDI WEINGARTEN, most specifically.

How rich that the woman who is spotlit in Waiting for Superman as the villain, finds herself in the unfortunate position of being unable to step out of the shadows, out from the creepy background music assigned to her, to proclaim for all the world to hear: "STOP! Stop portraying me as the obstacle to reforms, such as RttT, charters, value added evaluations and merit pay. I AM ON YOUR SIDE!"

See, she cant do this because she plays BOTH sides of the street. Unfortunately for teachers, she is delivering the goods to the wrong side of the street - the one they are not on. The one she is supposed to be leading the fight against. But because she has to keep up appearances to the 2nd largest teachers' union (2nd largest union period, in the US of A) and all the satellite unions it links up to, she cannot claim the credit she is actually due... she cannot speak in a bold and authoritative voice for the awful reforms she is enabling, unlike her "counterpart" Michelle Rhee. (How could she when she was responsible for shepherding into being that abysmal-for-teachers/Rhee-friendly WTU contract?!) She deserves the credit - and that means she deserves teachers' condemnation. But she has to speak out of the other side of her mouth, the pro teacher side, while pushing these wretched "deals" for teachers, in unions across the nation. Therein lies the problem for poor Randi.

Has anyone, union fan or foe, not noticed how badly she comes off when she's interviewed or "debating" the teachers' side (lol) on TV? She simply can NOT do it. She cannot speak for us because she is no longer working for us. She is no longer truly on our side, no matter how much lip service she gives to our side.

That is why she comes off so poorly.

Which, by the way, does nothing to help our case - hammered as it already is by a highly controlled, 24/7 media blitz against us. She actually helps our foes because she doesnt make a clear cut rebuttal to what they say. All she is left with, in her bag of tricks, are weak platitudes and generalities that must have the union foes slapping their sides in glee at the poverty of her "opposition" to the case they so fearlessly and ignorantly, but more effectively, make.

(cont.)

Posted by: NYCee | October 13, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

RANDI WEINGARTEN & the UNION:

I'd like the spotlight to be shone on how the second largest UNION, the AFT, has a very high profile, active leader, Randi Weingarten, who, every time I turn around, is SELLING OUT teachers, pushing local unions to capitulate to Race to the Top criteria to win the money, ie, agree to value added evaluations, lifting charter caps, getting merit pay...

She applauds laws, from the flood of new state/local laws being passed to win RttT, that are antithetical to what a teachers' union should be supporting and are not good for public education, nor for education, period. (I read somewhere that when certain Colorado progressive legislators were in tears over the passage of yet another bad RttT-friendly "reform," Randi was giving it her blessing!)

Union leaders should be leading a robust fight against these neoliberal education "reforms" with everything they've got. Instead, Weingarten has adopted the mindset that this new wave of "reform" is a tide too strong to swim against... so, hey, let's go with the flow. I mean, we get the MONEY. (That also seems to be all she "accomplishes" for teachers now - merit $$$)

We'll see how much that RttT money actually helps teachers in the classroom. I wager very little. I think the damage it will do, both in the changes made to get it and in what it will be used for, will far outweigh the advantages.

As she sells out members, she has twisted her message to make it seem like what they're getting is actually "helpful" to them, such as the value added deals. She frames it that without her intervention it would have been much worse because no fierce (lol) teacher advocate (lol) wouldve had a hand in shaping the outcome.

Sorry, but when you give everything away to the other side, that is not helpful to teachers. In fact, her stamp of approval makes it worse because she, in her high profile capactiy, is feeding into the pro "reform" zeitgeist propagandized by the corporate coalition of business, media and politicians (Dem led, GOP loved), that this is all well and good with teachers. I mean, "EVEN Randi Weingarten agrees!" And "EVEN Randi has come around!" And "she GETS it now!", which is what the reform pushers are saying about her. (Notice how mealy mouthed and lame her "rebuttals" are in interviews... hey, a sell out cannot speak for the sold out, just as 2 + 2 surely equals 4.)

There is no mystery behind why she, and she alone, is given just the only spot afforded the "other side" of this education reform "debate" in the mainstream media: She's welcome because she's SAFE, and that's because she has become, for all intents and purposes, one of them!

This pro-reform capitulation runs counter to where Randi used to say she stood. Now she's serving as a (very bad) model to other union leaders, showing how they, too, should sell out, giving them lines/lies to parrot, the ridiculous excuses she uses to pretend it's "all good."

Well, it isnt.

And she isnt fit to fight for teachers.

Posted by: NYCee | October 13, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

NYCee,

You pose an excellent deductive argument.

Posted by: shadwell1 | October 13, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Where is the "accountability" for...
> the CIA and other corrupt
govt. & Wall Street-affiliated players
involved with international drug smuggling
for decades (!)
-- deliberately inundating
communities & specific neighborhoods with heroin,
cocaine, meth, pills (MDMA/ecstacy), etc.
It is a documented fact that the CIA
& corrupt elements of the U.S. govt.
& freemasons have been involved in large-scale
heroin distribution operations and also
involved in the deliberately induced
crack cocaine epidemic targeting black neighborhoods (for the purposes of social undermining & political-economic control).

Where is the "accountability" for...
> The 'entertainment' industry
flooding our youth with heinously toxic,
cognitively poisonous VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES
and GANGSTER-THUG GLORIFYING music/videos
that promote
crime, substance abuse, disgusting conduct,
mistreatment & violence against women,
anti-educational achievement,
anti-positive values, anti-professional careers,
anti-healthy, responsible behaviors !

Where is the "accountability" for
self-proclaimed edu-profiteer BILL GATES & MICROSOFT
in producing & promoting VIOLENT, PATHOLOGICAL VIDEO GAMES, including first-person shooter games,
such as HALO !!!??? --
which, unfortunately, too many of our country's
children, our country's students heinously waste
too much time messing around with,
messing themselves up with --
instead of healthfully, smartly & beneficially using that time for... productive experiences, studying, exploring/learning, participating in sports, teamwork, creative arts music, outdoor activities & nature, significant time with friends & family, engaging in community service !!

Where is the accountability for VIACOM
& other media corporations
(eg. instead of the "BET" channel being utilized
for positive, inspirational, educational
or meaningful programming --
it has mostly
broadcast the worst sociopathic, demeaning,
undermining junk -- promoting
gangsterism & exploiting our vulnerable youth
with pernicious mind-killing crap.

FACT! --
Where is the "accountability" for Wall Street
& elite financiers,
such as MERRILL LYNCH and OPPENHEIMER,
previously the MAIN INVESTORS & SHAREHOLDERS
owning majority stock in the company
that produced the 'GRAND THEFT AUTO' video game
as its main product !!!

Also, what about the corporate soda-pop
& junk food pushers targeting children ?!

The reality is that ethical, caring, dedicated
public school teachers have been the
'good samaritans' courageously
teaching with tremendous effort daily
to educate & constructively help chidren --
to transcend, overcome hardship,
to cultivate wellbeing & achievement --
despite the grotesque obstacles
& destruction foisted on us by
irresponsible, unscrupulous, rapacious and
duplicitous corporate execs. & financial elites,
(societally-sabotaging/damaging,
corrupt oligarchs, such as Goldman Sachs,
J.P.Morgan/Rothschild scamsters et. al.
who've caused millions of chidren & families to be homeless.

Posted by: newmanagement2 | October 13, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

...to a lack of parent engagement.
...............................
Will any educator in this nation actually admit that the problem of the poverty public schools is that these schools have large number of students that have great difficulties in learning and in many cases students that may never be able to learn?

Posted by: bsallamack | October 13, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Refreshing to hear that the teachers are making decisions based on student needs, instead of the needs of the administrators to publicly claim that their scores have gone up.

I also imagine that we will be depending on those students someday to care for us in a medical situation.

Thank God for free, public education!!

Posted by: celestun100 | October 13, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, shadwell1.

Some NY education bloggers have long had her number, quite a few detest her... I count myself among them. I cannot bear to hear her speak any more.

Her poor leadership as UFT president gave teachers a lot of crap to deal with in the NYC public school system (Mayoral control - BloomKlein, and the crap they unleashed. And she loves her some Bill Gates! He mucks up our city schools at present, experimenting on them with his chump change, ie, gobs of money... )

Check out this awful thing... Randi & Bill Gates, so happy together.

http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=1529

And the apple doesnt fall far from the tree when it comes to her protege, current UFT president Michael Mulgrew. He learned well from his mentor, as shown in his very Weingartenish selling out of NYC teachers this spring, by doing a complete 180 on his previous opposition to charters and value added evaluations.

He did this in a backroom deal, which greenlit the way for the union-tied Dems in the NY legislature to vote these in as laws, this done in time to stamp them prominently onto the application for the 2nd round in Race to the Top. It is essential that you have union agreement, called an MOU - Memorandum of Understanding - in order to "win" RttT.

Hey, it worked. We WON! (Ugh. That means we lost.) I hope my current hopefuls, the CA teachers, specificially the much maligned UTLA, stand tough, say, in the name of Rigoberto Ruelas (R.I.P.) and resist Randi's attempts to squish them into compliance.

Here is why I like the United Teachers Los Angeles:

http://www.utla.net/vamproblems

Randi is meddling in their business these days, as she is meddling here, there, and everywhere. She is off and running across the nation, unravelling what she is supposed to be protecting, like, er, well... like she's setting herself up for some plum Democratic party appointment in the near future... er, ya think? If not, she might as well be, given her performance.

Baseball season metaphor: Randi as The Closer for Team Reform:

The local union gets squeezed by all manner of reformistas, applying pressure like crazy. When the beleagured union is at a negotiating impasse, still trying to resist the wrecking ball to protections like due process, seniority in layoffs, like a non-divisive, collaborative workplace not splintered into fractious individuals clawing for merit prizes and value added security... in waltzes Randi Weingarten.

Enter Randi to push them into the reform fold. She is not The Closer for Team Union. Far from it. She is The Closer for The Neoliberal Establishment, our management overlords.

Weingarten is doing great harm to teachers, public schools, and union strength (great for our weakened middle class!)

As a NYC blogger said, after watching her with Rhee on that horrendous Education Nation: "It looks like Randi could've used some help." (That line must be read appropriately - oozing with searing understatement.)

Posted by: NYCee | October 13, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

NYCee,

Thanks for the links! Awesome.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 13, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Before you go all ga ga over Raymond, there are a couple of things you should know. He is a graduate of the Broad Foundations superintendent school. He also just signed on with 6 other large districts in Ca to form a non-profit that supports merit pay and many other changes called for by Race to the Top. Ca was denied and these districts are trying to get their own similar reforms put into place.

Raymond is scared for his job...Kevin Johnson, Rhee's fiancee and mayor of Sacramento is trying to push his way into schools. He's trying to get his people elected to the school board and if this happens, he may be able to get Rhee Raymond's job.

The only thing that will save Raymond is if he gets the teachers on his side. He's finally realizing this but make no mistake, he's a "Rheeformer", through and through.

Posted by: sactown1 | October 13, 2010 11:06 PM | Report abuse

sactown1

Thanks for the heads up on Raymond. What a shame if what you say is true, which, at this point, I tend to believe. There are so many sell outs out there, the stand outs are really hard to find. From what you say about Raymond - smells like Weingarten Spirit to me, playing both sides of the street. That sort is particularly odious.

The Democrats have latched onto the Republican's education playbook and are taking it to a new (worse) level. Thus we see selling out of a breathtaking magnitude. That's why I am very suspect over the LAUSD's fight against UTLA to "help" disadvantaged kids by putting a plug on the teacher layoffs. From what Ive read, the union is fighting the district's lawsuit because they believe the district is messing with seniority re the layoff problem.

Given the current push against union protections, like seniority, I cant help but smell a rat in the "good intentions" of the district. That the mayor, who is bemoaning the union's "intransigence" in denying teachers to kids, is a Democrat gives no comfort, Democrats are Republicans on education. There is no daylight.

Democrats are rats jumping ON the reform ship. They cant abandon the teachers fast enough. And the worst of it is, as I keep trying to point out, the most high profile union spokesperson, Randi WEINGARTEN, has been selling out teachers so much these days, shepherding local unions into the "reform" fold, that I can only imagine she is positioning herself to join her Democratic friends some day soon, in appointed or elected official capacity...

One can only laugh (darkly) when one hears, often, how the horrid unions are obstacles to reform.

I only wish it were true.

Posted by: NYCee | October 14, 2010 7:22 AM | Report abuse

jlp19:

You're welcome. There is a lot out there to uncover on these hypocrites and sell outs, if folks would only follow the foul smell coming from behind the curtain...

We all need to keep digging and displaying what we find!

Posted by: NYCee | October 14, 2010 7:29 AM | Report abuse

interesting views from a superintendent- of course, no one wants to mention the first and for-most important issue in education is parenting and the family dysfunction. No one wants to hold parents accountable- it's easier to make the teachers and unions the scapegoats than start at the first line of defense, which is the home- fix families and start holding parents accountable and teachers will be able to do their job more effectively- then you'll see schools improve drastically!

Posted by: srblonde | October 14, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

A good way to ensure that your young kids are on the proper track is to set aside at least 30 minutes a day to read aloud with them.

Vary your books, find ones that interest your kids and don't forget that their listening age is much above their reading age.

On my blog you can find children's book reviews, based on my daily read alouds with my twins.

Read Aloud ... Dad

http://readalouddad.blogspot.com

@readalouddad (on Twitter)

Posted by: ReadAloudDad | October 14, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

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