Tiny Lindsay school district leads the way in the San Joaquin Valley

The Lindsay Unified School District has just won a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education in the 2012 Race to the Top  competition. The RTTT grants are designed to reward school districts that use innovative means to reach their students. In Lindsay, they are allowing students to work at their level and advance when they have demonstrated proficiency in required skills.

That seems like a simple concept, but it is a change from the traditional system, and schools generally cling to the status quo.

This is how we put it in today’s editorial:

“Sometimes our over-choreographed public schools make learning much too complicated, as they cater to the educational elite, the political insiders and textbook publishers. Lost in this shuffle are the students.

“In many ways, our public schools are more about serving the adults in the system than the students they are supposed to be educating. A good example is the school calendar. It is set up for the convenience of adults, even though the extended vacation periods create learning deficits as students are away from the classroom for large chunks of time.

“Lindsay Unified puts the emphasis on the classroom, with its performance-based system. “People learn in different ways and they learn in different time frames,” Superintendent Tom Rooney said last month after Lindsay was named a Race to the Top finalist.”

Here’s the complete news story that ran on the front page of today’s Bee.


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.