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Pleasant Hill mayor wants more community involvement in MDUSD schools

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, February 11th, 2013 at 2:35 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pleasant Hill.

Every week, Pleasant Hill City Manager June Catalano provides the Mayor and City Council with a “weekly update,” which is posted on the city’s website.

Last week, the first item in the update was related to Mayor Michael Harris’ new Education Initiative, announced at his Feb. 7 Mayor’s Breakfast.

Here’s what Catalano wrote:

“Pleasant Hill Education Initiative – The Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce hosted the ‘Mayor’s Breakfast’ event on Thursday, February 7th during which Mayor Michael Harris launched a new program: The Pleasant Hill Education Initiative. The intention of The Initiative is to establish a community-wide volunteer effort to enhance the quality of education for students in Pleasant Hill. The Initiative would include programs such as mentoring and tutoring students, volunteering in schools, career counseling, job shadowing, community teaching labs and afterschool enrichment programs. Mayor Harris is seeking to form a Steering Committee to plan and oversee The Initiative. This committee would be comprised of representatives from various organizations including City Commissions, the Pleasant Hill (PH) Recreation Park District, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, PH Library, Foundation for PH Education, PH Chamber of Commerce, Construction Trades, and the PH Community Foundation.

Those interested in being on the Steering Committee or wishing to be a volunteer in the program can sign up online at For more information on The Initiative, contact Martin Nelis at”

Here is a news story by Pleasant Hill reporter Lisa P. White about the breakfast and education initiative:

It says that the district superintendent and principals of Pleasant Hill schools support the initiative. However, to my knowledge, this hasn’t been publicly discussed at a school board meeting.

How do you think Harris’ initiative could affect K-12 district schools?

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80 Responses to “Pleasant Hill mayor wants more community involvement in MDUSD schools”

  1. Wendy Lack Says:

    To the degree this initiative results in increased degrees of freedom for each school site — and less top-down micromanagement by the District — it could be positive. And to the extent this initiative increases public involvement/awareness/scrutiny of PH schools, it could be a good thing (e.g., may jump start community conversations exploring conversion of College Park to a charter school).

    Ultimately MDUSD schools require sweeping reform to optimize staff and financial resources. We can do better.

    BTW, here’s a link to a new policy paper featuring school success stories from across the nation:

  2. Jim Says:

    Mayors all over the country are starting to demand more accountability from their traditional local public school district, which typically exercises monopoly control over education for their citizens. Mayors know that few things are more important to middle class families than the quality of the public schools, and those are the families that every almost every city struggles to retain. How much of the middle class flight from our cities, how much of the “urban sprawl” and traffic that so many people oppose, can be traced back to deficient urban schools? How many people would live closer to jobs in Oakland, SF, and San Jose if they felt that they could trust the public schools there?

  3. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ Jim:

    This short vid from a Stanford professor speaks to what he sees as the root cause of public school under-performance:

    To gain perspective on the problems with our current public school system, it helps me to consider the following question:

    “If we were starting from scratch, seeking to find the best way to educate kids, would we set about to build the public school system we currently have? If not, what would we do differently?”

  4. g Says:

    Luckily, Pleasant Hill for the most part isn’t one of our lowest socioeconomic communities. Never the less, all areas contribute their share of ‘problem’ students; the kids that end up in things like “disproportionality” studies.

    In a district with well over half of its students living in varying degrees of poverty, this book should be required reading for every teacher, principal, counselor and every person on Steven Lawrence’s “Equity Team.”

    Online there is only a paragraph or two for each chapter, but ALL of Chapter 2 is online, and it pretty much says it all!

    Hopefully Lawrence will take some of that $1million+ he is taking away from SpEd to pay his “experts in rhetoric” (who have not one iota of provable/gradable accomplishments under their belts aside from their own paychecks) and use the money to buy some real education in understanding and solutions.

  5. Anon Says:

    What a great video Wendy! Thank you for sharing that.
    I have been saying the same thing over and over and all that it has gotten me is my kids getting looked over. This is a huge issue and needs to be changed!

  6. Anon Says:

    Here is the problem with some Charter schools in the local area….They are Union members who refuse to fire a teacher for poor performance. I don’t have a problem with the Union, I do have a problem with poor teachers and admins that hide behind them.

  7. Anon Says:

    I don’t think Your Highness Linda Mayo will allow such a thing.

  8. Wait a Minute Says:

    Anon#6 sounds alot like EberMarsh talking about Clayton Valley Charter HS.

    I can’t wait to see CVCHS’s test scores when they come out to see how much improvement they have been able to have just by getting out from under the imcompetence and corruption of EberMarsh and Stevie and company.

  9. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Anon: Here’s a post by CSUEB about a recent donation of desks to CVCHS: I wonder if this would have been possible when the school was part of MDUSD.

    Anon: Since Trustee Linda Mayo is from Pleasant Hill, I would hope that she has been in the loop on this. If not, the superintendent needs to keep trustees in the loop before he endorses partnerships between the district and other agencies. But, since Mayo has long been a proponent of equity across the district, I wonder if she will be concerned about the additional advantages that students in Pleasant Hill schools could receive as a result of this. Perhaps similar partnerships could be forged with the other district cities.

  10. @ #6 Says:

    It’s the Union that hides them and protects them.

  11. Jim Says:

    @Wendy et al — While I don’t wish to defend teacher unions as they are currently oriented, let’s be clear where the real problem lies. The school unions would not have the power they now have if they did not work in public school district monopolies. In a choice-driven setting, unions that turn their employers into dysfunctional dinosaurs usually alienate the organization’s customer base — ultimately, with losses to the union’s own membership. Only where the employer has a monopoly (or close to it, as with public transit or the Big 3 car makers in Detroit until the 1980s), can unions wreak pervasive damage. If an organization faces the need to attract and retain customers, unions can cooperate quite effectively. We have many industries (airlines, food retailers, hotels) where the unionized players manage to compete quite effectively. (UPS is unionized — with the Teamsters, no less– while FedEx isn’t. Does one provide all that much better service than the other?) I expect that the union members at CVCHS will figure that out, or suffer the consequence of declining enrollment. Many countries with pervasive teacher unions also operate very effective, responsive schools. Of course, those same countries often offer parents far more school choice than we do in the U.S. (The idea of determining a child’s school based on his/her address would seem absurd to most people around the world.) The teachers AND administrators in those schools know that they have to work productively with one another to maintain their reputations among parents.

  12. Theresa Harrington Says:

    With more community volunteers in schools, teachers won’t be able to work in isolation. If they’re not up to snuff, parents will start complaining.

  13. Jim Says:

    Theresa, I have seen more than a few cases where parents complain up the wazoo — on matters about which they are well-informed, because of their involvement in the school. Why should anyone listen? No one’s job is at stake. There’s no revenue at stake. It’s not like the average parent is suddenly going to sell their house or cough up +$20k/yr per child for private school, just so they can exercise the kind of choice that we do almost everywhere else in our lives. Yes, the motivated and caring educators will always try to be responsive, if they can be. But those aren’t the ones who are the problem.

    Here’s an idea for all parents reading this blog. Each Friday at the dinner table, ask you child how many hours he/she spent watching videos that week in school. Then try to do something about it.

  14. Doctor J Says:

    @Jim, maybe a better question would be “How many substitute teachers did you have this week ?”

  15. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ Jim #11 and #13:

    Wholeheartedly agree. The root cause of today’s public school problems is the lack of competition.

    The imbalance of power we now have — the result of the unholy union of organized labor and politicians — arises out of the government monopoly.

    Oh, and I’d suggest one additional question to the Friday night dinner table talk: Also ask students how much time was spent doing pre-prepared worksheets. Worksheets aren’t teaching — they’re glorified babysitting (and the hallmark of an ineffective instructor, IMO).

    Bottom line: A competitive environment lifts all boats. And genuine accountability is not possible in a government monopoly.

    If there’s no reason to change, nothing changes.

    There it is. That sums up the status quo.

  16. Jim Says:

    @14 Dr J — Oh we have asked about substitutes too. But sometimes our boys were confused. Some teachers were absent so much, for so long, that they were no longer clear who the “substitute” was.

    @15 Wendy — One comment about “competition”, as I know that word raises images of robber barons, meat packing plants from “The Jungle”, Dickensian blacking factories, and all sorts of evil Wall St. shenanigans. Particularly among educators, who in many cases have never worked outside the public sector, “competition” means some kind of dog-eat-dog race to the bottom. (Hello! We’re already there!).

    We need to remind people that for most successful organizations (as with so many star athletes), the “competition” is often with themselves. Yes, you are aware of what your competitors are doing, but mostly, you are trying to do things better than you did them before, because that’s how you make your customers happy. Yes, there are monetary rewards, but most professionals I know in business are also motivated by the challenge of meeting — and then beating! — their customers’ expectations. Few individuals can do that by themselves. You need the entire organization committed to a purpose, and we simply don’t have that in our local public schools, where so many people are so completely unaccountable.

    I am working on a project right now with an impressively successful charter school here in CA, and it is interesting to hear from the educators there how much more fulfilling their careers became after leaving traditional public school districts. They all say they work much harder, and they have certainly given up a few financial benefits and job security, but they are enjoying their jobs more. It provides a vivid contrast to so many of the teachers I meet in MDUSD. There is so much talent in our schools, but our educators are often so discouraged, cynical, and exhausted.

  17. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ Jim #16:

    I come from generations of teachers and both of my parents were teachers. So I understand that the concept of “competition” may sound odd in the school context. But from the perspective of a consumer, it makes more sense. And that’s the perspective to which I’m referring.

    As consumers, we have expectations and preferences. We like choices. We have different standards and tastes. Some of us are pickier than others. And, when it comes to schools, most of us aren’t experts in education — we trust “the professionals” at our child’s school to know what’s best.

    Parents today are the same way. They’re consumers and expect responses to questions and concerns about their child’s education. When they try to make things better, too often they’re unsuccessful and end up feeing “trapped” and without reasonable alternatives and no way to make things better.

    And, in Districts such as MDUSD, which can only be characterized as dysfunctional, parents can become depressed just by attending school board meetings!

    So the whole notion of “competition” is really about allowing parents the freedom to choose what they believe is best for their child. To find a safer school. A school with a particular educational emphasis or special expertise. Or a school in which there is greater parental involvement or where the teachers have more experience and better qualifications. A better-managed school where teachers seem happier and things hum along smoothly. A school with overall better test scores. Whatever.

    The point is, we live in a consumer-driven Starbucks-type world where we are accustomed to ordering precisely what we want. We order NetFlix “on demand.” We want what we want when we want it.

    But government doesn’t offer us choice. Certainly public schools don’t offer choices — for the most part it’s a take-it-or-leave-it deal.

    And that’s part of today’s disconnect between parents and schools. Parents want choice and, in particular, a “way out” of bad schools. If they can’t afford a private school alternative, they’re stuck.

    But I argue: They shouldn’t be. There should be choice. It’s only fair and right that parents should be able to choose what’s best for their children, regardless of socio-economic status. Quality education should not be only available to those able to afford private schools, tutors, etc.

    And with choice comes the opportunity for all schools to improve. That’s the beauty of it. School choice brings genuine accountability to every manager and every employee at every school.

    In my professional work in organizational development, I have become a real fan of Marcus Buckingham’s work (see: His “strengths-based” approach to performance management works with both child and adult learning. If there had been a “strengths-based” school available when my kids were young, I think it would have held great appeal.

    Yes, there are many talented educators. We just need to set them free to do their best work, free from the burdensome red tape that has nothing to do with what’s best for students, and everything to do with politics.
    Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?

    What’s to say there cannot be entire school districts that are composed of charter schools — free from state red tape? Shouldn’t we at least explore the possibilities? Don’t our kids deserve as much from us?

    We can do better.

  18. Jim Says:

    @ 17 Wendy — Couldn’t have said it better myself. That is basically the reason I started my blog at

    Some districts have committed to charters in a big way. Washington DC and New Orleans both now have a very significant proportion of students attending charters. Here in CA, LAUSD has gone farther with “teacher trigger” charter conversions (like CVCHS) than any other district in the country.

    So it is happening. MDUSD would make a great candidate for converting many, if not most, of its schools to charters.

  19. g Says:

    Forget past failures. The time is ripe to steer PH directly into a city-wide, maybe even city-run charter district. Perfect demographics. Perfect number of students.

    Roll at least most of the elementary schools back to K-6, convert middle schools to 7-9, and College Park to 10-12. Far more age appropriate and most population problems solved.

    MDUSD would have to hike its pants and tighten its belt and rethink itself. After 70 years of rambling along its about time!

  20. Jim Says:

    @19 G — Since no parent-led charter conversion has yet succeeded in CA (and PH schools aren’t eligible in any case), I assume you are advocating teacher-trigger conversions at each school. What do you think the prospects are for that?

  21. Wendy Lack Says:

    Perhaps Mayor Harris’ initiative needs a charter task force, if there is sufficient interest. Perhaps this will be a topic of discussion by the Pleasant Hill Education/Schools Advisory Commission.

    The Commission’s January agenda states its “next meeting will be February 27, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. in the Large Community Room, 100 Gregory Lane. For information, call Martin Nelis at 925-671-5229.”

    (Note: A few days before meeting dates, the City posts the meeting agenda at: Those interested can also “subscribe” to the City’s automated e-mail notification system to receive advance notice of Commission meetings.)

  22. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Another question to ask, sadly, is: Did any teachers invite students into the classroom closet?

    MDUSD and Patti Bannister are being sued by the student who was sexually abused by a former Diablo View Middle School teacher who initiated sexual contact in his classroom closet:

    After this incident, Superintendent Lawrence discouraged teachers from going into closets with students. But, is this a rule, or just a general guideline? Also of note: This student was a teacher’s aide during a prep period, when no other students were present. Is this common? Seems like a possible red flag. Perhaps this practice should also be discouraged by school administrators. Finally, the student visited the teacher in his middle school classroom when she was a high school student. Did anyone notice a teenage girl making frequent visits alone to her former teacher’s classroom? Increased vigilance regarding campus visitors should be encouraged, especially as schools attempt to beef up their security plans.

  23. g Says:

    Far too much of what the taxpayers give, the Feds and State takes away in the name of education and they pass down just pennies on the dollar for actual education at the classroom level.

    As if the Feds and State didn’t already make us spend enough keeping the ‘non-educator education enterprise’ well fed through experimental mandates that, for the most part haven’t worked, far too much of the leftover funds are then spent by a district hell-bent on keeping those non-educators over employed by repeatedly bringing in even more of the outside professional “talkers” (not doers) to tell them how to repair the warn out machinery of a 70 yr old factory.

    If even one of those professional “talkers” can show a proven track record of having ever run even a successfully turned-around public school – much less a district – well… no worries there.

    Not one of them has anything to say that hasn’t already been published by a better talker than they are, and can be had for free on the net or $20 if you want to have a hard copy. They talk big about being ‘in it’ for the black kids, the immigrants, the poor. They never mention their $grand a day fee.

    And Wendy, you didn’t exactly say it, but you’re right. There is more than one way to skin a cat.

  24. g Says:

    Not a single synonym for the verb ‘discourage’ means “do not.” Did Lawrence tell his kids “I want to discourage you from running out into the street to get your ball?”

  25. Doctor J Says:

    @#22 Didn’t the victim have to file a “claim” with the district that should have been considered by the Board ? Don’t ever recall that being on any agenda — AND — don’t recall the Board ever denying the claim ? I don’t see it in any minutes. Is Greg Rolen just going “rogue” and denying these claims himself ?

  26. g Says:

    It tooks 6 months before Cottrell confessed and got his 9 yrs in jail for it. Maybe Rolen thought the district was home safe.

    Perhaps a claim was filed and when no response was received either acknowledging or rejecting the claim the parents dropped the ball. If that is the case, Jane Doe can proceed now on that earlier claim.

    But, if a claim was maybe just mailed, and not ‘properly served’ I don’t think Rolen is one inch above tossing a claim in the round file.

    And, let’s face it, he was awfully busy in court these last two years over his own personal issues to give much time to district issues–why do you think we need an associate counsel and seven outside firms to do the district’s business?

  27. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Although Rolen denied the Fardella’s $1,000 bus judgement himself (and was later overturned by the board), I don’t believe he could deny a claim for more than $25,000 himself. I sent him and email asking for a copy of the claim and the district’s response. He replied in an email that he was unaware of any Government Tort Claim having been filed. So, it’s possible the attorney didn’t follow proper procedure. In several places in the court filing, the attorney mistakenly referred to Diablo View Middle School as “Mount View Middle School.”

    I did find it quite surprising that no one from the district told Patti Bannister about the lawsuit before I called her yesterday afternoon. Rolen said the district found out about it Tuesday night. I had sent Board President Cheryl Hansen an email about it Tuesday night, which could be how Rolen found out about it. But, out of courtesy to Bannister, one would have thought he would have alerted her to the fact that she was named in the lawsuit, so she didn’t have to hear it for the first time from me. Keeping important facts like that from school administrators is not a good way to build trust.

  28. g Says:

    Understanding that a Claim generally must precede court action against a government agency, I’m wondering if the district, as a division of a state agency, under GC 910.4 government must post a copy of its own required form for making claims, or at least list its board adopted requirements for filing a claim.

    I could not find such a form or information on Rolen’s section of the web site.

    Also, did the district follow mandated reporting requirements at the time this all went down? Did they properly report the incident to CPS? Regardless of what else happened, I think they were required to file with CPS.

  29. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The district probably assumes that lawyers know the law. But, yes, for the sake of residents who may want to sue the district, it’s a good idea to have the claim procedure posted online.

    Regarding notifying CPS, the district claims it didn’t know anything about Cottrell’s inappropriate behavior before the girl’s parents called police. After police were called, the district was not required to notify CPS, according to our investigative reporter, who has been covering recent mandated reporter cases. However, if the district knew about inappropriate behavior and didn’t report it, then it could have failed in its mandated reporting obligation. The lawsuit alleges that there were complaints about him leering down girls’ tops and inviting students into the closet with him.

  30. g Says:

    Also, yes, the minor’s parents should have gotten an attorney involved right away, but what if they failed to do that on her behalf within the statute of limitations. What if she had to wait until she was an adult and able to get her own psych reports, medical bills, file suit, etc.?

    Letters or claim forms only have to be mailed, not properly delivered like subpoenas. Mail gets ‘lost’ all the time.

  31. Doctor J Says:

    I wonder what the order said, posted today, of the Feb 11 hearing, said about Greg Rolen’s veracity ?

  32. Theresa Harrington Says:

    What order? The court website says that copies were made, but I don’t see anything about an order:

    Here’s what Rolen wrote in his Wednesday afternoon email:

    “We became aware of the filing last evening. We are in the process of obtaining the complaint. We have not been served with a complaint, and are currently unaware of any Government Tort Claim. As such, it is premature for us to respond to either the allegations, or your questions.”

    In looking more closely at the lawsuit, I see that it states that Government Code Section 905(m) “exempts a claim for sexual abuse of a minor from the government tort claim presentation requirements of the Government Tort Claims Act for any abuse that occurred after Jan. 1, 2009. As such, Plaintiffs were not required to present a government tort claim to MDUSD.”

  33. Doctor J Says:

  34. Theresa Harrington Says:

    When I went to that link, I got this error message: “ADODB.Field error ‘80020009’
    Either BOF or EOF is True, or the current record has been deleted.”

  35. g Says:

    Theresa, Dr. J isn’t talking about the Jane Doe case right now. It is probably safe to say though that Rolen was late for work again Monday.

  36. vindex Says:

    The Mayor doesn’t have any power of schools in a weak-mayor system. The Mayor is a honorary title. Some cities have strong mayor systems and they do have some pull. The Pleasant Hill Mayor is in the weak mayor system.
    Now, to the point at hand. How many of the people have actually worked in schools? I have spent hundreds of hours in a several different types of schools. I have even spent some time in schools in the MDUSD system. What I have found is there is no easy solution. It’s not the parents, teachers, admin., students entire problem. To a certain extent it is all the above. Also, each group brings some good to the equation. If I could narrow it down to one problem that would help DRASTICALLY?! It would be the disintegration of the family. The amount of problems caused by a dysfunctional family to a child is unbelievable. I have worked with thousands of students at every level and I have seen it all (at least I hope I have). It is horrible. How is an admin or teacher supposed to teach a student in these situations? So, Jim, it isn’t as simple as you suppose or it isn’t as easy as the Stanford professor with all his “Data” makes it seem. It is very complicated with a billion moving parts.

  37. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Vindex: The point you are making reinforces the need for counselors. You’re right. Teachers and administrators can’t effectively deal with students’ family-related problems the way a trained counselor or psychologist who was given adequate time to do counseling could. Now that Prop. 30 has passed and the district will likely be getting more money through the governor’s weighted student formula, perhaps trustees could consider hiring real counselors for general education students, instead of relying on administrators and teachers to fill the gaping hole. As has been pointed out, this was also a hole in the disproportionality plan.

  38. g Says:

    Theresa @ 29, “The district probably assumes that lawyers know the law.” You’d think their in house lawyer would know it to, huh?

    He’s had at least a year to become familiar with any modifications to the law, but like I said, he’s been too busy with personal issues and just directing traffic of the seven outside firms to actually practice much law for the district.

  39. Anon Says:

    Theresa, at last nights meeting the way I understand how Prop 30 and the Gov’s budget is….We will get slightly more money but instead of it being assigned to certain things like text books they will give the district a lump sum. In that “extra money” we will have a certain amount of time to get K – 3 class sizes down to 24 but the collective bargaining could say we want to keep class size and give the money to teachers. Just an example. At least this is what I took from the meeting. Our district will still be funded less because we are not at the 60% ELL and free lunch. It is all very confusing…. The Board and district will decide how to allocate the money and what is needed and not.
    If you ask me they should find a way to make the accounting of school funds easier. It is so complicated no one can really answer the questions with certainty.

  40. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Anon: Yes, that’s my point. The district will get a lump sum and the board will have the flexibility to decide how to spend it. This is why a strategic plan is so important. Trustees should allocate money according to highest priorities. But, since the plan ended up being rushed through before the election and hasn’t been looked at since, it’s difficult to know how strongly the current board supports it.

    The board needs to figure out its funding priorities. Which is more important: reducing class size to 24, giving raises, hiring more counselors, bringing back elementary instrumental music programs, librarians or high school sports? Deciding what to give more money to now could be be just as difficult as it was to decide what to cut in the past. Will the board stick to the district’s motto of putting students first? And even if it does, what will that mean in terms of how money is allocated?

  41. Anon Says:

    Can we get a grasp of the total differences by comparing this school year’s budget with the projection for next year, or is that too much to ask?

  42. g Says:

    The BAC is scheduled to meet 3/13–maybe more info then…?

  43. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ Vindex #36:

    No one ever said any of these systemic or cultural issues were simple or easily solved.

    Personal responsibility is no longer a strong cultural norm, as it was ~60 years ago. Accordingly, the key economic unit of our society — the family — has eroded and effectively replaced by government incentives. Predictably, this decline has had devastating impacts on children, the economy and schools.

  44. Jim Says:

    @36 Vindex — I don’t believe that I have ever said, anywhere, that the solutions for education are going to be “easy”. They aren’t, because human beings aren’t easy to work with. So let’s dispense with that straw man argument about what you think I “suppose”. There are such things as “necessary” and “sufficient” conditions. If you want to drive from SF to LA it is necessary that you have gas in the tank and a minimally functioning car. Those conditions, alone, are NOT sufficient to get you to LA, but there is no point in even starting out if you can’t satisfy those two necessities. To me, school choice is a necessity, before we invest much offort in other innovations, because those innovations are unlikely to succeed or spread if no one is motivated to make them happen.

    Trends toward more dysfunctional families have undoubtedly made education more difficult for students and educators. But I find too many educators who are too quick to blame all of their problems on that. How does family dysfunction explain the fact that some schools (parochial and charter schools among them) achieve such astonishingly better results with children who are demographically identical to the students in nearby failing traditional public schools? I’ve worked with some of those successful schools, and they have a LOT of students from poor, single parent homes. In fact, how does your explanation account for the relatively poor performance even in our so-called “better” traditional public schools, where family incomes are high, most families are intact, and many of the households have multiple college degrees?

    I’ve become convinced, based on my experiences working with schools and educators across the country over the past 15 years, as well as on the considerable investigation that I have done on the topic, that a NECESSARY condition for the success of MOST (not all) school systems is a constituency of families and students who have the option to choose another education provider if their current one is not meeting their needs. The availability of such choice will NOT guarantee a favorable outcome, but for all the reasons highlighted above it will FOSTER a system where educational providers are more responsive to student needs. We see this dynamic in almost every other area of our lives. If a provider of goods or services knows that you have no choice, they will often tend, over time, to be less and less responsive. I find it remarkable, frankly, that people think that education, where our country so often sees such miserable results, is somehow immune to this long-recognized organizational dynamic.

  45. Flippin' Tired Says:

    TH@29, while I’m not dismissing the district’s duty to report, a parent can also file a CPS report and file a police report. Who reported that the teacher was leering and meeting in closets? If the child told their parent, their parent also could have filed reports.

  46. Theresa Harrington Says:

    FT: You’re absolutely right. And of course, in this case and in the Brentwood case, it was the parents who notified police.
    But, school staff may see or hear things that parents may not see or hear, so they may be aware of possible abuse before parents.
    Also, of course, some parents may be the abusers. Vigilant school staff members could help students escape abusive situations, if they speak up.
    I attended a mandated reporter training in Lafayette where teachers were told that child abuse crosses all socio-economic lines and happens in all communities.

  47. Doctor J Says:

    FCMAT posted its report on CVCHS impact on MDUSD. Based on “client supplied information”. How much did this report take out of student’s education ?

  48. Doctor J Says:

    Funny isn’t how this report makes it way to publication before the FCMAT report on Special Education ? Me thinks FCMAT’s reliability and existance should be questioned.

  49. Anon Says:

    Please forgive me for asking a stupid question….So does this report say that the District is saving money?
    or costing more? I am so confused. Can someone plsease explain it in simple terms for me.

  50. Anon Says:

    Dr. J. Steven Lawrence said the Special Ed. FCMAT report would be out next week and he would release it as soon as he gets it. He said it was back with FCMAT for corrections. This was said at the feeder Pattern Meeting held on the 13th.

  51. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Anon: That’s interesting, because the superintendent told Board President Cheryl Hansen he didn’t want to release it until FCMAT could find time in its busy schedule to present it to the board. I’ll post the information Hansen shared with me about this in a separate blog post.

  52. Doctor J Says:

    How long can Steven Lawrence hide a public record ? That’s unfair — I should have included FCMAT in the question too since they are a public entity.

  53. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s my new blog post about the ever-changing excuses from the superintendent about why it’s taking so long to release the FCMAT special education report:

  54. Doctor J Says:

    “ever-changing” is a good description about everything he does. It started at Buttercup . . . and hasn’t ended . . . yet. He talks out of both sides of his mouth, even to the Board president. Disgusting.

  55. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I see the district has quietly posted proposed changes to its Uniform Complaint Policy:

  56. Diane Says:

    Pleasant Hill Mayor Harris, whether he is a strong mayor or a weak mayor, has no authority to establish an agenda within the school system, regardless of whether or not the PTA and the School Board has approved. He is dealing with students and manipulating the educational agenda as well as assuming supervision of the free time of every citizen of Pleasant Hill.
    Of course the community organizations and businesses would want to get at the students. It means more power and authority for them at the expense of the students and the educational establishment. This is a national strategy to transition the citizens into satellites of government.

  57. g Says:

    Where are you coming from. Yes we know about ABAG and UN Agenda 21 and MTC all trying to cluster us into what will someday be little more than tenement housing, but what does that have to do with a Mayor declaring that the citizens must get behind their schools with both voluntary support and taxpayer oversight?

    Assuming supervision of the free time of the citizens? Giving organizations and businesses more power and authority at the expense of the students and their educational?

    No one is costing the students and their education more right now than the Bureaucratic, Inbred, Oligopoly of the Public Education System.

  58. Wendy Lack Says:

    Q: Is greater local control of schools a good thing?


  59. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s an interesting post about three different strategies to improve teacher quality:

  60. Theresa Harrington Says:

    For those interested in promoting critical thinking, here’s an upcoming workshop that may interest you:

  61. Jim Says:

    @58 Wendy — Well, that’s the $500 Billion question in the U.S., isn’t it? We spend that much every year from local, county, state, and federal layers of the edmachine. Almost every dollar spent in our local public schools has a long thin string attached to it, stretchning back to a specific pot of money at Dent Center, at the County OoE, in Sacramento, or in Washington D.C. And it’s all designed to force accountability into a system of local public school monopolies that showed little of it before, or after, this structure was put into place over the past 40 years.

    Smaller school systems tend to perform a bit better than large public school systems, which rarely show acceptable performance. But if you take out the most affluent suburban districts, which tend to be small, and correct for other demographic factors, it’s hard to make a case that we do a good job of educating ANY students who do not already come from affluent, educated households. In other words, “local control” often helps only if the elected committees running these little fiefdoms are already working with kids who are likely to succeed.

    Over 80% of the students in this country must attend schools in no-choice local monopolies. We’ve seen the results, and now some people want to know whether “local control” — re-arranging the deck chairs — will save this ship. Sure, if we think all of the “non-local” educrats can leave their paws off $500 Billion/yr, let’s go back to the pre-Sputnik era and try that again.

  62. Jim Says:

    @ 59 Theresa — So Marc Tucker, an NCEE researcher, proposes that schools do what well-run organizations have always done to improve workforce quality, and this makes news?!? 1) Improve the quality of your recruiting pipeline; 2) invest in the people you do hire; 3) and get rid of the bottom performers. Of course, most traditional public schools don’t do any of those three things, although they often claim to prefer #2, even though there is little/no evidence that existing investments in “professional development” have any measurable impact.

    Marc Tucker’s earth shattering sky-is-blue, water-is-wet observations will go into the cyber waste basket, because most school administrators have absolutely no incentive to consider them, let alone do the hard work of implementing them. The fact that these strategies are used effectively by thousands of successful organizations outside the sealed, parallel universe of traditional public schools won’t make any difference.

  63. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Yet, one of the district’s stated goals in its adopted (but never looked at again) strategic plan is to attract and retain high-quality employees. A strategy for implementing this goal, however, has not been crafted. The board asked the superintendent and his staff to bring back implementation plans for the highest-priority goals, but so far, we haven’t heard a peep from them about this. I’m not sure if this assignment was included in the superintendent’s performance evaluation goals.

  64. g Says:

    Jim, I think we can, but it won’t be easy or cheap to accomplish! “Sure, if we think all of the “non-local” educrats can leave their paws off $500 Billion/yr, let’s go back to the pre-Sputnik era and try that again.”

    To use your reference, let’s keep in mind that little of what has been developed in technology since Sputnik (or even before), might have even been thought possible without the “schoolmarm” education received by those early students.

    “…system of local public school monopolies that showed little of it before, or after, this structure was put into place over the past 40 years.” The key here is ‘or after’!

    Where did successful teaching come from before the ‘educrat machine’ saw a fortune to be made off the backs of education?

    It came from much loved (albeit underpaid) teachers dedicated to their profession.

    Shaw’s old adage “Those that can, do, and those that can’t, teach” is certainly an insult to good teachers—but fits right into the pocket of the true educrats. I would say “Those highly educated professionals who could teach, don’t.

    They write ‘how-to’ books about teaching–but don’t teach, and in many cases (barely or never) have. They go on the highly paid ‘how-to’ philosophy lecture tour, not to teach, but to sell themselves–and their books.”

    Why? Because they like money a lot more than they like kids, and they are not in it for the sake of education!

    I think we do have to go back to where we were at least 40-50 years ago–start again. We’ll have to pay adequately to get dedicated teachers now–but that’s a good thing.

    I worked for a Fortune 500 company. Their philosophy was: You have every right to organize into a union if you want to. But, they didn’t want to have to put up with that bureaucracy trying to tell them how to do what they already knew how to do. So, they hired us, evaluated us, and if we were successful compensated us at least as well, and in many areas better than we would have ever gotten by fighting them through a union machine.

    So, every adventure has to start someplace.

    We need to start by getting the Ed Code down to something smaller than War and Peace, and the teacher’s manuals more understandable than an un-diagrammed handbook for electrical appliances.

    Jerry Brown promised to fix the Ed Code, and much of what he is talking about now when he campaigned in 2010. Let’s hold his toes to the fire on it.

    Every pilot understands the point of no return. I think we still have enough fuel to get back to base. Turning back can’t be a worse choice than plowing ahead on what is almost certainly going to end in a crash.

  65. Jim Says:

    @64 G — I know many people would like to return to “earlier” days in education, but I don’t believe that that would be necessarily desirable (for some schools perhaps, but not for all) or possible. Schools in the time you are referring to had the benefit of a huge teacher corps of talented, educated women who had almost no other options in the white collar job market except being nurses or secretaries. Moreover, the expectations that our society placed on schools and students were a lot more homogenous then (ie there was considerably more agreement across society on what — and how — students should learn). Nevertheless, even under those favorable circumstances, the number of students who dropped out or graduated with minimal skills was huge back then as well. The system “worked” only because most jobs did not require much intellectual skill, and many of those drop-outs and low-skill graduates could find good jobs with decent pay.

    Now, in too many cases, we are recruiting teachers from the lower reaches of the college graduate pool, and the dropouts/low skill students they teach can’t find decent jobs. Around 30% of students in the U.S. never get a typical HS degree, and the bottom third (or half?) of the remaining 70% do not graduate with usable white-collar skills. That leaves less than half of all kids with any prospect for 21st C. careers. Our country will never be prosperous enough to pay all the bills that we are racking up when half the population cannot participate, meaningfully, in the economy. That’s why organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations have identified our failing educational system as one of the greatest risks to our nation’s security:

    Trying to go back in time won’t help, because the current one-size-fits-all school monopoly wasn’t ever really doing such a great job. Families and students desperately need more options to choose schools that can finally be more accountable to the people they are supposed to serve.

  66. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Jim, At the Ed. Writers conference about STEM I attended, one panelist said the shortage of US students studying STEM is a national security risk because you have to be a US citizen to work in military R&D. Although businesses can import engineers from India, China or elsewhere, the US military can’t, he said. This puts the US at an intellectual disadvantage when it comes to military innovation, he said.

  67. Wendy Lack Says:

    @Jim #65:

    If you reside in Pleasant Hill, I hope you attend the City’s Education Commission meeting at 7:00pm on February 27, 2013.

    Meeting details will be posted on the City’s website soon at:

    Clearly you have much expertise to offer that could benefit our schools.

    Best regards,

  68. Jim Says:

    @67 Wendy — I’m not a PH resident, and will be away on business that week in any case, but I do have a suggestion for attendees at the meeting. Arthur Levine, the president of the Teacher’s College at Columbia U., wrote a candid article last fall in the Wall St. Journal addressing the often-ignored problem of low achievement in our suburban school districts. I covered his article in my blog:

    People too often associate failing schools with urban America, but sadly, that is only one part of the problem.

  69. g Says:

    Jim, I too really appreciate your insight. I also admire the in-your-face politics from Wendy, the expertise of Alicia and yes, I really like Dr. J’s (sometimes) down and dirty, get it done, grit!

    Too often my thoughts stray and I have to stop–because this is a blog, and not my personal treatise 😉

    When I talk about “going back” or refer to schoolmarm education I certainly do not mean Readin’ ‘Ritin’ and ‘Rithmatic for all.

    I am though, a proponent of a whole lot more of the ‘back to basics’ for many. As you and others have indicated, smart kids will at the very least survive, and maybe even excel–in spite of us.

    We all know (when we admit it to ourselves) and in turn must make our government accept the fact that, no matter what fancy name or acronym they tie to the conditional allocations of dollars, some students will never help their K-12 “hit 800”, will not succeed even if shoehorned into a higher academia setting, and will never build that rocket.

    But they could forge the steel, temper the glass, lay the fiber-optic, punch in the data, and yes, sew the uniforms. Public education must assure a future for them as well. But, we must get political to bring jobs back on-shore and we must incentivize both professionals and tradesmen to become educators to those students.

    Tossing the bored (or high strung), lost (or mistreated) kids into ‘continuation’ (with nursing stations) doesn’t seem to have done a good job of keeping half of them from dropping out, nor does it get them a job.

    Throwing too many into SpEd, because no one understands them is not the answer–and cheats SpEd and everyone else.

    Most of these kids can absolutely be motivated and made employable, but we cannot count on the McD’s, Targets or Walmarts or the Mom & Pop store on the corner to employ all of them. Nor can we allow bored, lazy unmotivated teachers to teach them.

    We have proof on our doorsteps that decades of shoving dollars on top of dollars to send our educators to ‘eat-drink-listen-buy’ seminars or pay to have outside ‘experts’ come talk ‘at’ us has not worked. The only thing different in what they say today than they did 20 years ago when they wrote their thesis is now their hypothetical bs is in a PowerPoint.

    But the dollars generated locally could work if they were kept local, and used for positive improvement in teaching and leadership.

    The money that flows so freely out of our district to the traveling salesmen of education needs to be kept at home! We must insist on it. We pay taxes on what we earn locally, but in turn, too much of that money does not benefit our kids when a huge percentage of it is going into a second financial bucket somewhere upstream in D.C. or Utah or Georgia or…even over the rainbow – in Sacramento!

  70. Wendy Lack Says:

    This blog by Penelope Trunk always challenges my thinking and I love the numerous use of embedded links to source documents and articles. Always an interesting read. Am sharing it for the benefit of others:

    @G #69: If there’s one thing just about everyone can agree on, it’s that our current public school system is not working. This is why I’m a proponent of school choice and homeschooling. Just about any alternative is better than public schools.

  71. Wendy Lack Says:

    Sad news from Oakland re top charter schools:

    Excerpt: “Three of the highest-performing schools in the state are on the verge of being shut down by the Oakland school board, a decision that will pit passionate students and parents against district officials trying to safeguard taxpayer cash. The vote will be either the latest or the last chapter in the controversial story of American Indian charter schools.”

    Of course there’s no excuse for financial mismanagement or ethical conflicts. And if charter operators are engaged in misconduct, it must stop.

    However one cannot help but marvel at the hypocrisy of a failed school district such as Oakland Unified criticizing others for financial mismanagement! I think this qualifies as chutzpah — writ large.

  72. Jim Says:

    @71 Wendy — If the charter operator is proved to be misusing public funds, then it would make sense to punish the responsible administrators in the organization, not the students. Imagine the fear that those parents and students must be experiencing — that they will be thrown back into their local Oakland Unified school, or into a lottery for scarce seats in one of the other successful charters in the city.

    But the other “conflict of interest” that the Chron missed is Oakland Unified’s approval and regulatory authority (granted by the state) over schools that offer residents a competitive alternative to the district’s own miserable schools. We’ve seen that conflict quite clearly here in MDUSD and in other districts, although it seldom gets media attention. For some reason, despite all the reams of evidence, people keep believing that these local dysfunctional districts — with their own colorful histories of corruption, legal troubles, and incompetence — are actually “in it for the kids”.

  73. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Speaking of being in it for the kids, a national commission on Equity and Excellence has just released a report called “For Each and Every Child,” which lays out recommendations in five key areas for erasing the achievement gap:

    I just listened in on the teleconference with reporters and commission members releasing this report, which Congressman Mike Honda from Silicon Valley helped to orchestrate. He said he plans to hold Town Hall meetings in his district to delve more deeply into these issues, which include: improving school finance and efficiency – in part by making it more transparent, attracting and retaining high-quality teachers – especially in high-poverty areas, improving access to early childhood education for every child, meeting the needs of students in high poverty communities – by focusing on things outside the schoolhouse that can be done to help students be ready to learn, and changes to the way education is governed – including improvements in accountablity structures, directed towards increased equity and greater excellence.

    I will be interested to hear your reactions!

  74. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here is a US Dept. of Ed blog post that stresses the importance of counselors in actually providing help to students, instead of just identifying student needs:

  75. Theresa Harrington Says:

    For those interested in getting more involved in local schools, you might be interested in attending the Equity Advisory Team meeting from 2-4 p.m. today at the district office, where the Equity and Disproportionality Plan will be presented:

    Thanks to the board’s decision to make this a board committee, “Public attendance and comments are welcome at this meeting,” according to the agenda.

  76. Theresa Harrington Says:

    To celebrate the good work that is going on in the district, MDEA is planning its First Annual MDUSD Academy Awards, to be held May 17 at Centre Concord:

    MDEA is accepting nominations for teachers, classified employees, administrators and parent volunteers to be honored. Nomination deadline is March 28.

  77. Wendy Lack Says:

    Degree inflation hits disadvantaged families hardest, as this New York Times article illustrates.

    An undergrad college degree has become the new high school diploma — an essential requirement for any white collar job, including file clerk. The education gap further stratifies society . . . an unhealthy cultural trend.

  78. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s an article reflecting lack of satisfaction by teachers and principals in their jobs, further addressing the need to attract and retain high-quality employees:

  79. Theresa Harrington Says:

    An here’s a story about the large number of teachers in CA who are teaching subjects for which they have no credential:

  80. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here are two education events coming up Tuesday and Wednesday focused on educating students for college and careers to benefit the California economy:

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