Normally, I don’t respond to op-ed pieces by public officials, but I can’t help responding to a piece on this page last Sunday by Susan Salcido, the Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools. She gave us her two cents on how the public schools in Santa Barbara would handle closing after our governor threw down the tablet from his luxurious mansion, commanding all schools to institute remote learning for the entire school day.
Whenever I engage this superintendent and/or her predecessor about any issue, I always wonder what the heck they do. California is one of the few states that has a county education office having no line authority over any schools. They don’t operate any schools in the county.
It’s a bureaucratic fiefdom set up over 175 years ago, essentially a relic of the horse-and-buggy days. At least, unlike the guy who occupied this position for 34 years before her, she doesn’t feel the need to opine about every political issue unrelated to her office.
Regardless, she is an elected official, and her pronouncements on the catastrophic closing of our schools are noteworthy. Although she appropriately blamed this horrendous decision on the governor (assuming the school districts would have arrived at a more rational decision), she then attempted to sugarcoat it by suggesting students will not suffer because this time, as opposed to last spring, the schools will have their act together and will ensure that all students receive a rigorous education, no less comprehensive than if the schools were open. I try not to be too cynical, but I doubt many parents in Santa Barbara believe this.
But what really caught my eye was the process she outlined for elementary schools to apply for a waiver, which would allow them to reopen in August. After reading the exhaustive list of things a school must do to get the waiver, one cannot help but think that it is highly unlikely any school is going to open anytime soon.
Interestingly, she left out the most important criterion for satisfying the waiver requirements, which is getting the consent of the teachers’ union. That’s right, no public school opens under the waiver process unless the union agrees to allow it to reopen. (Why is that problematic? Because the teachers’ unions in Los Angeles are demanding defunding of the police, Medicare for all and no more charter schools before they will agree to any waiver.) Did Dr. Salcido have a momentary memory lapse leaving out this interesting nugget of information?
The fact of the matter is that many parents, particularly parents of elementary school children, are traumatized by this gubernatorial edict and are not going to be placated by jargon-filled assurances from Dr. Salcido that everything is going to be okay.
Parents know this means their kids are going to fall behind academically and are not sure how they can rearrange their work schedules to accommodate remote learning from the home. I have heard many parents consider a new concept in education called micro schools and learning pods. Simply put, parents organize a classroom for five or six students by hiring a tutor or teacher and creating, with the help of professional educators, a personalized learning plan for their kids. Many are calling this a game changer for public education, unlike anything we have ever seen before.
Essentially, this might be the final nail in the coffin of public education in California. We know from test scores, graduation rates and a variety of other measurements, that public schools, including those in Santa Barbara, are performing very poorly.
In our Santa Barbara Unified School District, over 50% of the kids in elementary schools aren’t proficient in math or English. We have been told over the years by countless superintendents and boards this will improve. It never does. Many of us are tired of the excuses and have stopped believing anything that is said by a politicized, inept school bureaucracy. Closing the schools may be what’s needed to change the paradigm for education, even if this wasn’t intended by our governor and the self-serving civil servants in Sacramento.
The writer lives in Santa Barbara.