I write to endorse the three independent candidates for school board: Madhu Pai, Wayne Eastman and Jeff Bennett, the candidates with the knowledge and concrete proposals for real curricular improvements and a serious commitment to 21st century global education. Unlike the establishment candidates, these three independents are experts in the curricula used by the best districts -- knowledge that is essential to our district's success in bringing up student performance and closing the achievement gap. Even more importantly, Jeff, Madhu and Wayne will ensure that our Board of Education is not a monolithic rubber stamp for the current administration. We need school board members who know the superintendent and curriculum supervisors work for them rather than the other way around.
Madhu, Wayne, and Jeff decided to run on their own, not at the behest of any other group. And the issues we now face go far beyond deleveling, which was already decided before all the hearings began (the administration even announced it to high school students three days before the Board vote this past Monday). As this shows, the deeper problem is that we now have a school board on which seven out of nine members will apparently do anything the superintendent says; there is virtually no "check" left. This pack has not asked any hard questions about the massive changes planned for 8th grade and the high school next year, or the data produced to back it that were thoroughly dismantled by independent review. The pack did not offer any compromise in the face of large opposition (more than 750 signatures on a petition opposing the 8th grade changes alone). They did not make a single alteration of the plans proposed for the middle schools in December and for the high school in January in response to objections. The one change they adopted made the plan worse: in response to requests to expand the promised "acceleration" option in 8th grade English language arts by offering that option in social studies and science courses, they actually removed it from Language Arts. If you ask this group for consideration, you can expect to be punished for asking.
But beyond the loss of distinct honors levels in 8th and 9th grade core subjects and in high school electives, we face a host of other problems that threaten the huge hopes the district is betting on this reshuffling of students. In particular, our curricula in core subjects remain weak in many respects. Even after a protracted period of restructuring, our language arts curriculum is still a home-grown hodge podge that will never measure up to the new state "core content standards," let alone to what a successful IB Middle Years program will require. We would be fools to enter into this massive restructuring with a Board composed only of nine "yes-people" who are incapable of making even minor changes to district proposals despite staging a lot of public meetings supposedly "seeking input."
If you have been somewhere in the big middle during the polarizing debates of the last two years, vote for the three candidates who will ensure that the Board of Education itself is not totally polarized: only Pai, Eastman, and Bennett can offer a counterweight to the pack. They will restore accountability to the Board, which in the next years will have to ensure that deleveled classes in 8th - 12th grade remain rigorous, address problems that failing students face, and improve our remediation programs. It will have to address continuing tensions (and behavior issues) at the high school in much more productive ways. It will have to ensure that advanced students in these classes have extracurricular challenges from Model UN to science competitions, and ensure that there are in-class opportunities as well, and at least notice when your middle school cancels its honors field trips. It will have to work to make our social studies curricula more global, in lieu of our 1960s paradigm (where are the courses on southeast Asia, one 21st century technology and markets?). The new Board will also probably have to hire a new superintendent under increasingly difficult conditions.
Madhu, Wayne, and Jeff are the only candidates who can strengthen Board oversight as these issues are faced. It is essential that we have Board members with a strong knowledge of what truly rigorous school districts are doing rather than a lot of "ed-theory" and ideology and slogans. We need Board members with an international perspectives and concrete plans for measurable improvement rather than ones who hide behind tired platitudes about "high achievement for all" and "equity" that we've been hearing for years without any positive results.
In sum, if you want candidates recruited by the dominant 'political machine' who will give the superintendent a blank check, then vote for the three establishment candidates in this race who will make the pack unanimous. If you want independent representatives responsible to you instead, vote for Pai, Eastman, and Bennett: see: www.votesoma2012.com/