Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
"A Better San Diego" Forum Addresses Local Public Education
A Better San Diego, a group billing itself as a “coalition of labor, community, faith, environmental, and civil rights organizations,” held the first in what’s planned as a series of community forums focusing on local problems and potential solutions on Friday morning in Mission Valley.
The focus of the initial gathering was on the San Diego Unified School District’s Community-Based School Reform model. School Board trustee Richard Barrera was the first of three scheduled presenters, touching on the need for strong public schools and criticizing the idea that “top-down” school reforms that focus on test scores and homogenous curriculums provide the best education to students.
“Public schools are the great equalizer in a democratic society,” Barrera asserted early in his address. He went on to compare reforms currently underway across the country to “corporatization” of education, with teachers trained to focus strictly on forcing standardized test scores higher in order to chase rewards of bonus pay or avoid the punishment of being fired. This, Barrera argued, comes at the expense of other facets of student development.
The forum’s second speaker was Cindy Marten, principal of Central Elementary School in City Heights, which was visited by then Texas Governor George W. Bush, who cited the school as an example of success in education that he promised emulate across the country if elected.
Central, Marten explained, is a school comprised of 100% Title I students – the entire student body comes from low-income families that qualify for free school lunches. Part of her strategy for improving student performance was to locate and observe the practices of the few successful students in each class, a practice she calls “positive deviance.”
“There were maybe only two in every room. There weren’t a lot, but I found them . . . and if two in every room can do it, twenty in every room can do it,” Marten said of the strong performance shown by some students despite a difficult environment away from school.
“At Central, we’re not waiting for Superman,” concluded Marten to applause.
Bill Freeman, president of the San Diego Education Association, was last to speak. He used his address to encourage an approach that makes schools a stronger part of their local communities, suggesting that school libraries be open later than regular school hours, or that day care centers and even health clinics be located on campuses.
Freeman also found fault with studies purporting to compare American students with their counterparts across the globe, noting that social and economic conditions, as well as government support for schools and for citizens needed to be taken into account in any comparison. He also pushed for sustained funding for education in the face of state budget cuts, which has affected San Diego Unified in recent years.
“Above all, we need a government that’s going to make education a priority in this country,” said Freeman.