“…pining for a previous superintendent is not only an affront to Ms. Marten but is akin to daydreaming about a former lover on your honeymoon.”
By Doug Porter
Talk about your cheap shots. It was bad enough when the UT-San Diego editorial board whipped up an attack on our city’s schools laden with misstatements, factual errors and a personal attack on Superintendent Cindy Marten. But when a nationally recognized education leader stepped forward to correct the record on her behalf, his response was deemed unworthy for publication.
It’ all very Orwellian; reality isn’t simply what Papa Doug Manchester tries to tell us it is. When his minions refuse to acknowledge something, the idea is for you to believe that it never happened.
One of the longest running narratives with our Daily Newspaper has been their dislike for the Board of Trustees at San Diego Unified. The paper’s ‘reform’ agenda for public education mirrors the libertarian/conservative wet dream of privatized charter schools, a change that means monetizing learning for corporate interests and creating a two-tiered system favoring the wealthier (and white) classes.
The reality that voters have elected and re-elected progressives to a school board that refuses to demonize teachers and puts the classroom first just is too much for them to handle. So this hatchet job is consistent with their refusal to acknowledge that SD Unified is making steady, determined progress (and is, in fact, a national leader among urban school districts).
The vehicle they chose for their latest round of truth-bending was a December 16th missive bemoaning the 2009 departure of their last white knight/reformer-type, SDUSD Superintendent Terry Grier. Let’s set the stage for a round of historical revisionism with a snippet from the editorial in question:
Bruising fights over policy, budgeting and his authority led Grier to believe that the new majority that had taken control of San Diego’s school board after the November 2008 elections cared more about helping adult employees, especially teachers, than students.
Grier’s replacement at San Diego Unified, retired Adm. William Kowba, was miscast as superintendent — something board members who wanted a pliant administrator considered a plus. Kowba retired earlier this year to be replaced by Central Elementary School Principal Cindy Marten, another unconventional choice who shows promise but whom to date has been extremely cautious about saying anything that might cross the teachers union.
Earlier this month came another reminder of what San Diego Unified lost when Grier left. A new Reason Foundation study hailed Houston schools for their nation-leading gains in closing the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged, largely minority students and students from middle-income and affluent families. By contrast, an August report showed San Diego schools making little progress in closing this gap.
Houston’s superior record comes even though it has significantly less per-student funding than San Diego Unified.
I guess readers are supposed to skip over the fact that the study came via the Reason Foundation, funded by the Koch Brothers, with connections to the notoriously right wing American Legislative Exchange Council and a track record including shilling for the tobacco industry.
Implicit in the mythology promulgated from Mission Valley is the premise holding SDUSD as a failed school system. Sometimes these assumptions arise from a difference over whether a glass is half full or half empty. In this case the editorial board just made stuff up, even choosing to ignore their paper’s own reporting on San Diego Schools.
As is true with urban school districts nationwide, locally there exists a nagging achievement gap plaguing minority students, a gap Diane Ravitch and others have pointed out is more likely connected to economic than instructional shortcomings. And nobody is saying there aren’t problems with the educational process and its role in preparing students for the real world.
The district is certainly guilty of puffery when it comes to its most recent report card from National Assessment Governing Board. As an article in Voice of San Diego on the latest study of urban school districts pointed out recently “Being near the top is less impressive when the rest of the pack is also falling short of the standards.”
Last we heard, Terry Grier has no magic wand up his sleeve. Improving schools is hard work, including many small victories, some inevitable setbacks and, above all, the support of the community. Peddlers of miracle cures have consistently been shown to be hucksters, frauds and fakers.
When Michael Casserly, Executive Director of the Council of the Great City Schools (comprised of the largest urban districts in the nation), tried to set the record straight at UT-San Diego, the paper passed on his op-ed. Casserly is no minor figure in the education field. He’s spent his professional lifetime working to improve the process. Everybody from from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Fox News’ Juan Williams seeks his counsel.
From his official biography:
His legislative work has been the subject of a college textbook on how Capitol Hill really works. He is considered by many to be one of Washington’s best education advocates and lobbyists, and an expert on urban education, governance, finance, and federal legislation and policy. Washington Almanac listed Casserly as one of Washington D.C.’s 400 most powerful individuals, and USA Today calls Casserly a “crusader” for city schoolchildren.
We’re posting his comments here in their entirety, so readers can see for themselves just how duplicitous the UT-San Diego editorial team really is:
Progress in the San Diego Schools: It’s Real
By Michael Casserly
Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress came out last week, and students in the San Diego Unified School District continued to post very strong scores in reading and math. Yet, it was hard to hear anything about the school system’s progress above all the yammering of commentators.
The data from the “Nation’s Report Card”—the country’s toughest and most independent reading and math assessment—show that San Diego scores at the national average in fourth- grade math and near national averages in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade reading and math—despite serving a student population that is substantially poorer and with greater English language acquisition needs than that of the average school district nationwide.
The evidence also shows that San Diego performs significantly better than its large city peers at the fourth-grade level in both subjects and about the same as its urban peers in eighth grade.
..one of the many reasons for the leadership churn in San Diego is that the newspaper and others won’t stay with a winning hand when they hold it.
The longer-term trends are even more impressive. In the last ten years that NAEP has been administered in the nation’s large city school systems, the nation’s overall gain in fourth-grade math was seven scale score points, while the gain in San Diego was 15. The nation’s gain in eighth grade math was seven points, while San Diego’s was 13. In reading, the nation gained four scale score points, while San Diego went up 10. And at the eighth-grade level, students nationally went up five points in reading while San Diego increased by 10. In every case San Diego’s improvements were at least twice the national average.
What’s more, student achievement in every racial, income, and language group has increased significantly over the last decade even though the gaps remain large.
To be sure, the school district continues to score below levels that it and most parents want, but the latest NAEP data put the lie to any claim that the district has not made progress. It has made substantial gains over the years, and it has continued to climb in the latest results.
Still, comments from a variety of quarters suggested that there have been no gains or that the district chose the wrong superintendent.
The commentary by the editorial board of the Union Tribune was particularly surreal in its fantasizing about what life would have been like had Terry Grier stayed in the city.
We like Grier and the great job he is doing in Houston, but to imply that the new superintendent, Cindy Marten, does not measure up is exactly why the city has trouble keeping committed educators as its school leaders.
The San Diego schools have had a succession of superintendents over the years—more turnover, in fact, than most big-city school districts, which are generally infamous for turning over its leaders. And one of the many reasons for the leadership churn in San Diego is that the newspaper and others won’t stay with a winning hand when they hold it.
The truth is that San Diego made a bold move in selecting Cindy Marten as its new superintendent. She has many of the same skills that Grier has in terms of innovative thinking, impatience for better results, and a nose for talent. She also has many unique skills, which will be put to the test as she works to improve student attainment citywide.
But she has been on the job only six months. So, pining for a previous superintendent is not only an affront to Ms. Marten but is akin to daydreaming about a former lover on your honeymoon.
The San Diego public schools, its leaders, and teachers have a great deal of work to do, but its progress over the years is real. Benjamin Franklin once noted that, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” San Diego is demonstrating growth and progress, and under Cindy Marten’s leadership it will produce improvement, achievement and success.
SDUSD Trustee John Evens also tried to point out the “fact gaps” in a letter to the editor. The response from Manchester’s minions: [crickets]
After reading (Grier and SD Unified, 12/16/2013), it occurs to me that maybe the editors do not pay enough attention to the news articles in their own paper. They tout the achievements of Terry Grier in Houston. But they fail to mention that the U-T reported a few months ago thatSan Diego Unified and Houston were both in the Broad Foundation’s top four urban districts for student achievement.
Let’s stick to the facts. Houston‘s dropout rate is 11.8 percent vs. a much lower 6.1 for San Diego. San Diego‘s AP pass rate is better, too. You cited Houston‘s broad course offerings, but failed to mention San Diego Unified’s award winning career technical programs.
Your only criticism of Superintendent Marten is that she does not engage in polarizing politics.
Urban school superintendents hired from outside, unfortunately, have the loyalty of professional athletes. Terry Grier was lured away by a district that was willing to pay him thousands more.
The Board of Education appointed Cindy Marten as Superintendent, because she was a teacher and principal who had proven that you can create a quality school even in a high poverty neighborhood right here in San Diego. Your only criticism of Superintendent Marten is that she does not engage in polarizing politics. That’s because she is constantly focused on her mission is to make sure that every child in San Diego has the opportunity to succeed.
“You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” ― Daniel Patrick Moynihan