April 25, 2014

A Triple Play Response to a Rogue Accrediting Agency

Bills will support City College of San Francisco, all community colleges in state

The CFT is in a pitched battle to repair our broken accrediting system for our public community colleges. The battle is being played out at City College of San Francisco, where 80,000 students and more than 2,000 faculty and classified members are at the mercy of a single agency that instead of ensuring quality education for all, has displayed manipulative practices, policy violations and illegal conduct.

This is why CFT supports a trio of bills making their way through the state legislature that will help erase the damage caused by this rogue accrediting agency and prevent it from inflicting any further damage. It’s time to help get City College of San Francisco back to offering quality education to the community.

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The following was originally published in the Sacramento Bee.

March 23, 2014

Viewpoints: It’s time to bring public school sports off the bench

Pitching, hitting and fielding have become a central theme in my house. Not because it’s spring training; it’s that my daughter’s high school fast pitch softball season is starting.

Few pastimes have captured her imagination so completely. My daughter has been playing competitive softball since she was 8 years old and she loves it. Some of her oldest and best friends are her teammates, and the experiences they have had will stay with them forever.

It’s a love that I understand. I was a high school athlete and also coached high school tennis for a number of years. The friendships, camaraderie and the competition from those experiences left an indelible imprint on me.

I bring this up because years of budget cuts coupled with the fixation on testing has relegated physical fitness and sports, like art and music, to an afterthought in many schools. Participation on a sports team is viewed as an add-on because schools have become all about narrow academics and focused on test scores. Class schedules are constructed as if to discourage kids from playing sports rather than facilitating the experience.

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February 28, 2014

Tenure Is About Protecting Good Teachers

There’s been a lot of talk about "teacher tenure"* as a major cause of the problems facing our educational system in California and across the country. Time and again, I read media coverage about how “bad” teachers remain in classrooms because tenure (more properly, the right to due process) protects them from ever being fired. It’s simply not true that poorly-performing teachers can’t be fired.

But what’s more disturbing to me is this fundamental misunderstanding and misinformation about what tenure is and why it exists.

When I think of teacher tenure, the first person that comes to mind is Sal Castro. Castro was a Mexican-American born in Los Angeles in 1933. He served in the army and returned to Los Angeles to earn his teaching degree. He started as a playground assistant and worked his way up to being a social studies teacher.

Castro saw that, despite the large number of Chicano kids in Los Angeles (the full Spanish name is Nuestra Señora Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula), our schools lacked bilingual and relevant cultural education. There was a deep bias in the system that tracked many Latino kids towards menial jobs rather than college, and forbade them to speak Spanish at school.

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January 31, 2014

Vergara Lawsuit: not what it seems

The first week of the Vergara vs. California trial is coming to a close, and I have to admit it’s been a hard one. Not only is it difficult as a teacher and a union leader representing other educators to listen to the spin and misinformation that the so-called “expert” witnesses are giving inside the courtroom, but it’s infuriating as well to see the lavish and expensive public relations show that Students Matter is putting on for the media outside. 

With the deep pockets of a billionaire Silicon Valley conservative to bankroll the effort, I really shouldn’t be surprised at the endless barrage of media events, press conferences and statements rolling out of the pro-Vergara forces. It’s a slick and well-planned effort spearheaded by Griffin Schein, an equally slick and well-funded LA-based PR shop (which despite its leftist pedigree has no problem promoting Wal-Mart as a past client). Contrary to the image that its backers are so carefully putting forth, Vergara is about as far from a grassroots effort as you can get. This is special interest money, and a lot of it, costumed as a movement of the people.

What does that mean for California’s teachers, who can’t hope to compete with that kind of money? We need to leave the courtroom language inside the courthouse and step forward with the simple and true facts to our parents and communities.

Those of us who have actually worked inside public classrooms know that tenure is a protection that allows the best teachers to do their best work. Part of being an effective teacher is acting as an advocate for kids – working to protect diversity and open dialogue in our classrooms. That is a key aspect of what tenure protects, the ability for teachers to speak and act on behalf of their students without the fear of reprisal from administrators. For every ineffective teacher out there, there are hundreds who fight every day to provide the best possible education for their kids.

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January 17, 2014

When Fiscal Restraint is a Flop

Governor Jerry Brown has released his 2014-15 budget proposal, the last of his current term. Our improving economy makes this one less painful than the last. So it is all the more disappointing that the Governor is ramping up his overly-cautious approach to restoring funding for the programs and services that benefit California’s most needy residents.

For the past few months, Brown has repeatedly spoken about the need for fiscal restraint, despite the rising tide of our economy. Recently, California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office announced that the state is past its financial crisis, and will have a $5.6 billion surplus by June 2015. That number is expected to increase to $8.3 billion by the 2016-17 budget year. Brown, firmly occupying the middle ground where he has grown increasingly comfortable these last few years, acknowledges there are more resources to go around while at the same time advocating an approach I can’t support—pushing for voters to approve an overly-large rainy day fund, while failing to back the oil severance tax proposed by State Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa)and asking for legislators to hold off on restoring money for critical social services.

This is not the Brown of the 1970s, a man shaped by his Jesuit teachings and inspired by Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King. But then, this is not the same era, either. Brown no longer has the cultural ferment or social movements of the 1970’s encouraging boldness and pushing him to be more progressive.

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