Education reform comes in many varieties in California

The many reform movements that California education has seen over the years has made educators cynical about the process. Reforms are often pushed by politicians as an election issue, only to be ignored once elected. But there is little doubt that our public schools are not equipped to handle the number of children who come to school unprepared. So reform is needed, but it must be targeted to improve the education of children who need it the most.

The Fresno Bee’s main editorial on Sunday urged fundamental changes in public education to deal with the children who come from impoverished neighborhoods. In many ways, California schools remain stuck in the 1950s when their students were mostly white, came from two-parent families and the middle class was a vibrant part of our society. Today in urban school districts, such as Fresno Unified, the vast majority of children live below the poverty line and often don’t have two parents living in their homes.

The lack of parental support is a main cause of children failing in school. They often don’t get help with their homework at home, don’t have a quite place to study and don’t have computers. Against this backdrop, our schools continually push students on a college track, and don’t put enough resources into career and technical education. Even though Fresno Unified’s Duncan Polytechnical High School has the best graduation rate, school leaders resist creating similar schools, opting for traditional high schools instead.

This is what Sunday’s editorial said:

“But while the reform movement has had many faces and many failures over the years, that doesn’t mean the public schools in California don’t need fundamental changes in how they operate. Too many children growing up in poverty in California are in failing schools.

“The problem we see with most reforms is they attempt to place blame on someone — teachers, administrators, school boards, parents — but don’t offer a consistent strategy for how to teach children who don’t have the economic advantages and family networks needed to succeed in our schools.

“The latest idea is to better evaluate teachers, with the premise being that schools will be able to reward the best teachers, and “coach” teachers who are lacking in classroom skills. The logical extension of that strategy is to weed out the bad teachers.

“That has caused the teachers union to fight evaluations of its members, claiming that it would create an unfair system, and leave teachers at the mercy of the demographics of their schools. Why would a teacher want to teach in a school in a poverty-stricken neighborhood when the performance of their students could negatively affect their pay or lead to their termination?”

Read more of the editorial by clicking here.

Fresno police chief discusses pedestrian safety

With the large number of pedestrian fatalities this year, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer is urging pedestrian, motorists and bicyclists to be extra cautious maneuvering through Fresno’s streets. Dyer said that 13 pedestrians and two bicyclists have been killed this year after being struck by vehicles. Another pedestrian was killed Friday

“As the city grieves the loss of Melissa Dowd, an aspiring physician with a desire and calling to help others, I can’t help but think about all of the families who are mourning the loss of a loved one killed in a traffic collision and will struggle through this holiday season without them,” Dyer wrote in a commentary in today’s Fresno Bee.

“Drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians share our roads, sidewalks, parking lots, driveways and pathways. Technology, engineering, education and effective enforcement tactics has made driving a vehicle safer than ever. However, we have seen a disturbing trend in our city with pedestrian fatalities.”

Dyer said that the vast majority of pedestrian deaths in Fresno were caused by the pedestrians, who did not cross streets safely. He also said that the most dangerous time for pedestrians is between 6 p.m. and midnight. The chief offered these safety tips:

– Don’t assume vehicles will stop. Make eye contact with the driver and be sure of their intent or action.

– Obey traffic signals at all times even when vehicular traffic is light.

– Do not rely solely on pedestrian signals; look before you enter the road.

– When crossing the street always use marked crosswalks.

– Wear bright clothing at night. Be seen.

– Watch for right-turning vehicles. The driver may be looking in the other direction.

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation

Happy Thanksgiving.

Today we thought it would be fitting to publish President Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation in our editorial space. Lincoln issued this proclamation two years into the Civil War, and at a time of great personal challenges for him. While some of the state celebrated a day of Thanksgiving, Lincoln’s proclamation made it a national holiday of “Thanksgiving and Praise.”

You can read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation by clicking here.

Another pedestrian death on Fresno’s streets

The latest pedestrian fatality should make us all a lot more cautious maneuvering on Fresno’s streets. Drivers drive carelessly and pedestrians often make foolish jaywalking mistakes. Details surrounding the death of 30-year-old Melissa Dowd are still coming out. What we know so far is that Dowd was struck about 11 p.m. Friday while crossing at the intersection of Shepherd and Cedar avenues. Police say she was walking with a man south across Shepherd Avenue when she was struck and killed by the eastbound vehicle.

The driver is cooperating with police. Dowd was a medical resident in the University of California at San Francisco-Fresno Medical Education program. The Bee’s report today says she was an accomplished musician and humanitarian from Blacksburg, Va.

We have a major traffic problem on Fresno’s streets, and it puts all of us in jeopardy. I see it first hand daily. I live near Fresno State and drivers need to be extra cautious as thousands of students walk across Shaw and Cedar avenues — some in the crosswalks and some jaywalking. And the drivers are also distracted, with many on cell phones. I also ride my bike near campus and recently was forced into a curb by a driver who apparently didn’t see me.

We all need to be more cautious, whether a driver, cyclist or pedestrian. You may legally have the right of way, but that won’t make much difference if you’re the one who is struck.

On Friday night, we lost a vibrant young woman who would have contributed greatly to society as a physician. Dr. Tim Comes, director of the UCSF-Fresno medical program, interviewed Dowd last year for one of 10 residency positions. ”She just stood out as an extraordinary human being,” Comes told The Bee.

Here’s more from the story:

“Dowd graduated summa cum laude in 2005 from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, where she studied biology and psychology. While at Virginia Tech, Dowd was also a member of the marching band and played several instruments, including the oboe, flute and euphonium, Comes said.

“She later attended medical school at Boston University and was a health fellow at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

“Dowd also had a heart for public service, which led her to work with HIV-positive orphans in Kenya and Tanzania, Comes said.

“When it came time to start a four-year residency program, Dowd picked Fresno. She started in June as an emergency resident at Community Regional Medical Center.

” ‘When she came here, she frankly fell in love with the people she met in the community and the program,’ Comes said.


Was the latest gas-price hike an oil company scam?

When gasoline prices on the West Coast skyrocketed in May and October, we were told it was because of  refinery shutdowns that cut into the supply. But a new report suggests that the refineries continued to operate and the supplies were not interrupted.

McClatchy Newspapers’ Kevin G. Hall has the story, which you can read in full by clicking here. Here is some of what Hall has reported from information produced by Oregon-based McCullough Research:

“Specifically, the report alleges that in May, at a time when Royal Dutch Shell’s Martinez, Calif., plant was reported to be down for maintenance for two weeks, it appears to have been making gasoline for at least half that time. That conclusion is reached from state environmental documents showing nitrogen oxide emissions had returned to normal at the refinery a full week before it was reported to have come back on line.

“Similarly, Chevron’s Richmond, Calif., refinery was reported down for maintenance for two weeks in May, but emissions data suggests the refinery never ceased operation.

“The research also concludes that gasoline inventories actually were building in May during a time in which West Coast motorists paid at least 50 cents more per gallon than the national average. This inventory building, evident in data from the California Energy Commission, happened even as four refiners were supposedly down for some portion of May.”