One of the least exciting races on the ballot is the race to fill the two vacancies on the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Trustees. Although it hasn't received the same attention as other more glamorous and well-publicized races, it may be one of the most important and consequential votes you will cast in this election.
Despite voters having a greater number of candidates for whom to vote than in recent elections, people with a political agenda have managed to hijack the campaign. You might think for a district that has done a shockingly poor job of academically preparing our students for life after graduation, the candidates would have been asked to explain why this is the case and what they intend to do about it.
In the last debate, however, sponsored by the Latino advocacy organization, Casa de la Raza, the moderators spent almost the entire time asking questions totally unrelated to the educational crisis plaguing the Latino population in Santa Barbara. Instead they focused on the personality of the superintendent, sexual education, ethnic studies, role of religion in schools, culturally appropriate curriculum and implied bias in the schools. This might be fine in normal times but, under the circumstances, it seems like it's equivalent to obsessing over a leaking toilet while the house is burning down.
To illustrate the magnitude of the problem, according to the 2018 Smarter Balance test scores, over 80 percent of Latino students in our schools are currently performing below grade level in reading and 75 percent of them are less than proficient in math. Although white students are doing better, their scores are nothing to write home about either. Anywhere from 40-50 percent of white students are deficient in key areas of math and 50 percent are below standard in reading.
So I ask, why did the moderators spend most of their time at the Casa de la Raza debate focused on every other thing except the disheartening Latino test scores in our schools? Is there not a more classic example of being unable to see the forest through the trees than the wasted opportunity to discuss this issue at a debate where we are trying to decide which candidates we should elect to our school board?
Do the Latinos in our community understand how ill served they are by the public schools? Do they know their children will be sentenced to a lifetime of minimum-wage employment because our schools didn't adequately prepare them for a future where academic literacy and STEM career knowledge will be critical to their eventual success?
Why wasn't there a robust debate about the role of teacher unions in education and whether the work rules they impose on the educational bureaucracy have contributed to the lackluster academic performance of Latino students? Did I miss the discussion about lifetime tenure, seniority, last-hired/first-fired work rules, or the lack of performance-based evaluation and pay for teachers and administrators?
Or how about a question asking why administrators can't tell us exactly how many students are writing or reading at grade level at any given time, or why so many students are inadequately prepared to take introductory college courses after high school? Where was the question challenging the candidates to state what they are going to do about the rapid growth of administrative staff in the district? Even though Santa Barbara school budgets have increased by 50 percent in the last five years, why have test scores failed to improve?
Probably the most glaring omission from the debate was any discussion regarding school choice or the incredible success other cities have experienced with charter schools. I wonder if the debate moderators were aware that some charter school companies are experiencing far greater success with similar populations for less money? Maybe it would have been useful to ask why this is the case. Why aren't we visiting these schools to see what we can learn from them?
Sadly, none of the above was discussed. Instead, the entire time was spent on controversial cultural issues, which, notwithstanding their entertainment value, hardly speaks to the real issues confronting Latino students.
Why is it when people are demonstrating or marching in the streets for the flimsiest of reasons, we don't see parents marching down State Street or occupying the school district administration offices demanding accountability for the education of their children? I, for one, even though I haven't taken to the streets for any movement since my college days, will gladly join you, locking arms in unison, to support a cause that will have far greater impact on the country's future than any other.
The author lives in Santa Barbara and is a regular contributor to Voices
Produced for Lou Segal 2020 - All Rights Reserved.