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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Trump's Plan to Make American Education Great Again: Abandon Public Schools

President-elect Trump described his choice for Secretary of Education in a November 23rd tweet as a "passionate education advocate," who will "break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families." Tweeting her reply, Betsy DeVos vowed to work with Trump "on his vision to make American education great again."

Will tweets follow, identifying those years of greatness, together with the plan to return to them? Don't hold your breath.

Over the last half century eight presidents (four Democrats, four Republicans) recognized the shortcomings of American education.

In 1962 President Kennedy's Special Message to Congress on Education, declared, "Our educational system has failed to keep pace with the problems and needs of our complex technological society. Too many are illiterate or untrained, and thus either unemployed or under-employed."

In 1965 President Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a cornerstone of his "War on Poverty," recognized poverty as a prime reason many students fail. The law provided federal funding to schools to help children from low income households close their achievement gap in reading, writing, and mathematics.

In 1979 President Carter, declaring education "our most important investment," signed into law the establishment of a cabinet level U.S. Department of Education.

In 1983 President Reagan's National Commission on Excellence in Education produced a report, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, a comprehensive collection of data revealing, "Thirteen percent of all 17-year-olds in the United States can be considered functionally illiterate. Functional illiteracy among minority youth may run as high as 40 percent."

In 1990 President George H.W. Bush promised, "By the year 2000, US students must be the first in the world in math and science achievement. Every American adult must be a skilled, literate worker and citizen. The nation will not accept anything less than excellence in education."

In 1994 President Clinton signed the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994, holding schools accountable for results, adding Innovative Education Strategies, such as charter schools, and reauthorizing Johnson's 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

In 2002 President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, holding schools accountable for student proficiency at grade level by the 2013-14 school year.

After NCLB failed to reach that goal, President Obama signed its replacement on December 10, 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The half-century parade of legislation to improve schools shows that American education has never enjoyed a golden age of greatness DeVos promises to restore. But there's plenty of evidence of progress, thanks to our last eight presidents.

--Kennedy made better schools vital to our national interests.
--Johnson recognized how poverty crushed student achievement.
--Carter raised education issues to cabinet-level importance.
--Reagan spurred reform with hard evidence of failing schools.
--Bush Sr. set a goal for America to be first in the world in math and science.
--Clinton introduced accountability for results and innovative programs.
--Bush set specific reading/math goals for all students.
--Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative rewarded innovation and accountability.

Trump has now nominated a billionaire philanthropist to be his Secretary of Education. Betsy DeVos has no experience at all in traditional public education, neither in her own schooling, nor in school advocacy and support. She graduated from Holland Christian High School and Calvin College in Michigan. She sent her children to private Christian schools.

A national leader in parental choice, DeVos has advocated for public funding of vouchers for private, faith-based schools, and home schooling. She opposes Common Core, the achievement standards describing what students should know and be able to do from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Devos is Chairman of the Board of the American Federation for Children, whose mission statement reads: We believe public education must be defined as providing families with the public funding they need to choose the education they determine is best for their children. The Foundation supports policies that empower families to choose a public, charter, private, virtual or home school."

Unlike any of the ten previous leaders of the U.S. Office of Education, DeVos has shown more interest in public financing of private schools than improving public schools for all.

DeVos will oversee a government agency whose mission goes beyond the issue of school choice. 

According to the DOE website, its mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. The department is dedicated to making policy on college student loans and grants, collecting data and disseminating research on America's schools, focusing national attention on school issues, prohibiting discrimination, and ensuring equal access to education.

Among the department's 2014-2018 priority goals are these:
--Increase enrollment in high-quality state pre-school programs

--Improve learning by ensuring that more students have effective teachers and leaders

--Support comprehensive early learning assessment systems

With his choice of Betsy DeVos, it's clear President-elect Trump believes the quality of schools can be easily ranked, parents should have the freedom to choose schools for their children based on that ranking, taxpayer funding will be available regardless of whether it’s a public or private school, and competition for students will result in better schools for all.

It's a free enterprise model, creating winners and losers for schools as well as students.

Studies have shown student test scores, commonly used to rate schools, correlate closely with family income. The quality of a school can be predicted by its address. Without alleviating the burden of poverty and crime facing students before and after school because of where they live, school choice vouchers represent the abandonment of America's commitment to a good school in every neighborhood.

If Betsy DeVos is confirmed by the Senate it may come as no surprise to find President Trump signing the Every Parent Satisfied School Choice Act.

Kids who've chosen the wrong parents need not apply.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Trump White House: Pulpit for a Bully?

In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kṻbler-Ross described five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In the wee hours of the morning on November 9, I entered Stage One. When I went to bed the night before, I remained hopeful, but harbored a gnawing dread that Trump could actually win. That week's Saturday Night Live skit of an election night party with true believer Democrats, captured how I felt.

Shortly after midnight I woke up to check the latest news on my iPad. I couldn't believe what I saw. There had to be a terrible mistake. By sunrise my brief encounter with denial had turned to anger. If I were 30 years younger I would have joined protesters in the streets.

But a couple of arthritic hips, together with vivid memories of how I survived the elections of Nixon, Reagan and Bush (both father and son), suggested I stay home. Trump lost the popular vote by more than a million votes, but so had four other presidents before him. On December 19, Electoral College voters will do what they've always done, elect our President.

So I'm following the losing candidate's and President Obama's leads. After a campaign subjecting her to infantile name-calling, Hillary Clinton's concession speech was gracious. "Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead," she told supporters.

President Obama, whose very legacy was on the line in the election, echoed Clinton's words. "It is no secret that the President-elect and I have some pretty significant differences. We are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country."

That said, there are plenty of reasons to fear what lies ahead. Words matter, just as black and blue lives do. Those who've taken to the streets haven't forgotten how Trump began his campaign with these words about undocumented immigrants: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

Throughout his campaign Trump resorted to name-calling and ridicule of everyone criticizing him, justifying his attacks by explaining when he's hit he hits back harder. Now he says he wants to be President of all the people, refusing to apologize for anything he's said, claiming they were just part of a hard fought campaign.

Teddy Roosevelt called the White House his "bully pulpit." The question many are now asking is will President Donald Trump's White House become the pulpit of a bully?

Trump's bullying became personal for me when, at one of his campaign events, he mocked New York Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski, who'd been critical of the candidate.

"Now, the poor guy, you ought to see this guy..." Trump jerked his arms in front of his body, flailing them in imitation of Kovaleski’s disability, arthrogryposis, which limits the functioning of his joints. Trump later claimed he didn't even know the reporter and was not mocking his disability.

But the truth can be found in an August 2, 2016 Washington Post article, Donald Trump’s revisionist history of mocking a disabled reporter, by fact checker Glenn Kessler, who gave Trump four Pinocchio's for his refusal to apologize for his viciously unfair attack.

Ten years ago the love of my life was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a condition causing the narrowing of the spinal canal and compression of the spinal cord and nerves. In addition to creating chronic back pain, it affects her ability to walk.

When she walks across the room at home she has to hold her arms out for balance. When we go for walks in the park, she either has to hold tightly to my arm, or use a cane. In public she fears curbs, stairs, crowds and children, all of which threaten her balance.

She vows to keep walking as long as she is able, recognizing she may one day need a wheelchair to go anywhere.

Like many others with similar, less visible, disabilities, Karen's is not as likely to be mocked as is Serge Kovaleski's. But it often elicits embarrassment, and even rudeness, in public places, despite provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Take the time we booked a Daytripper bus tour, only to encounter a vehicle that did not lower its steps to ground level, or promise that we could sit together, even if I could lift her up the steps, an impossible embarrassment in itself.

We got our money back, of course, with an explanation that disabled customers could request a van, IF one were available. That proviso can be found only in the fine print of the tour company's promotional brochure.

What does Karen's spinal stenosis have to do with Making America Great Again? Trump's tough campaign rhetoric suggests the rise of an American version of social Darwinism, survival of the fittest.

That's not good news for those with disabilities.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Who Owns Cody Campbell?

Hint: They're Not Vista Voters

Of the $16,874 from a total of 41 donors to Cody Campbell's campaign for reelection to Vista's City Council, only $2,640 came from city residents. He could thank the six of them by having them over for dinner.

To thank the others he will have to drive up the coast to Irvine and Newport Beach, after stopping in Oceanside to thank Mayor James Wood for his $300 donation and visiting other generous residents of Vista's neighboring cities.

But take a closer look at the out-of-towners to get a clue to their affection for the politician.

Vista limits individual campaign donations to no more than $440. But that didn't stop four businesses with shared urban development interests and the same mailing address (6885 Alton Pkwy. Suite 100 Irvine, California), from giving Campbell $1,760 on the same day last month, September 28.

Progressive Realty Partners is a property management group; Trico Capital Investments specializes in multi- family, mixed-use and retail properties; VASF 1 CA SPV, LLC is a Self-Storage business, and Hard Hat Inc. is a design/build firm.

At the City Council's March 8 meeting, Campbell proposed an amendment to the city's General Plan to change zoning on a 1.9 acre parcel of vacant land to allow Trico Capital Investments to build a two-story, commercial building with office/retail and storage space.  Hard Hat Inc. partnered with Trico in the plan. Seven months later the two companies joined to give Campbell $880 for his campaign.

Silvergate Development, the San Diego firm responsible for developing Vista's new City Hall, gave Campbell's campaign $440 the following day, on September 29. The development firm has a plan to demolish the Breeze Hill Shopping Center to build apartments, as well as another to build apartments at Creekside, next to Frazier Farms.

Silvergate has appealed to the City Council to overturn the Planning Commission's recent vote to require an Environmental Impact Report for the Breeze Hill apartment project. Deputy Mayor Amanda Rigby appealed an earlier Planning Commission's vote to approve the Creekside development. Both appeals are scheduled to be heard by the city Council at its November 15 meeting.

Pathfinder Management Co., partners with Silvergate on the Creekside apartment project, gave Campbell $440 on September 29.

The four partners of Integral Communities, a Real Estate firm in Newport Beach, kicked in a total of $1,760 to Campbell's campaign. They want a 17.7-acre site in South Vista to be rezoned to allow for a mixed-use project. A vote wasn't taken on it at the Council's January 12 meeting, but, as the Coast News reported, "a majority of Council members say they were open to the idea of rezoning the land at 2100 W. San Marcos Boulevard to allow for a mixed-use development. Vista Palomar, proposed by Integral Communities, would include 196 two- and three-bedroom condos and a 100-room four-story hotel. Deputy Mayor Amanda Rigby said she wanted to examine the differences between mixed-use and residential zoning before moving forward on the idea, but her colleagues expressed support for a housing development. Councilman Cody Campbell said he considered the proposal smart growth." (Hoa Quach, The Coast News, Jan. 12) http://www.thecoastnews.com/2016/01/15/new-condos-could-come-to-vista/

Ten corporate donors from Irvine, Newport Beach, La Jolla and San Diego gave Campbell's campaign a total of $4,400; twenty-five other non-residents of the city gave him $9,834; Six Vista voters gave him $2,640. Any question about how Campbell will vote at the November 15 City Council meeting, when the Council votes on whether to approve the Creekside and Breeze Hill development plans?

On November 8 Vistans will decide whether they want him there.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Why I'm Voting for Tanner and Schumacher for Carlsbad City Council

On September 10, 2015, I received a developer's glossy mailer, urging me not to sign a petition to vote on his City Council-approved plan to build a shopping mall next to the city's Agua Hedionda Lagoon. The five beaming faces of Carlsbad's mayor and city council appeared above the headline: DON'T SIGN THE PETITION. A handy Signature Withdrawal Request card, addressed to City Hall, was attached, in case I'd already signed it. That was the day I decided not one of those elected officials deserved my vote in the next election.

Unfortunately, there are only two open seats on the November 8 ballot. The incumbents needing replacement this year are Keith Blackburn and Lorraine Wood. Check out their campaign websites here: Blackburn; Wood. You'll find the two say nothing about the need to regain the trust of the community.

Wood says she is, "dedicated to supporting the Village and the Village Master Plan because this special place is truly the heart of the community."

After taking credit for supporting it, Blackburn praises the Desalination Project for "assuming responsibility as the Agua Hedionda Lagoon’s steward," despite his attempt to surrender its stewardship to an  L.A. real estate billionaire.

Wood and Blackburn are apparently satisfied with business as usual at City Hall, neither addressing the challenging issues facing the city on its way to build-out.

The four challengers are Ann Tanner, Cori Schumacher, Bill Fowler and Brandon Rowley.

Carlsbadians get to vote for two of the six. Incumbents benefit from at-large elections, with the most name recognition and number of previous supporters. Challengers are likely to split the votes of the disgruntled.

The September surprise in this election is Melanie Burkholder's withdrawal from the race on September 28, too late for her name to be removed from the ballot. She's the only candidate to list her party affiliation as "Republican" on the form she filed for this non-partisan office.

Blackburn and Wood report $100 payments from their campaigns for membership in the San Diego County GOP. Wood added an additional $360 for Carlsbad Republican Women Federated. Its satellite club, "Happy Hour Politics," was launched by Burkholder in 2014.

Conspiracy theorists might say Burkholder's candidacy was intended to benefit the two incumbents from the start, by drawing votes away from the four other challengers.

On October 12, two weeks after she had already dropped out of the race, the Oside News carried an Op-Ed Editorial announcing the San Diego County Gun Owners PAC endorsement of Burkholder. In a close race, the number of votes mistakenly cast for her could decide the election.

I'll be voting for Tanner and Schumacher (no relation to current Councilmember Michael Schumacher). I made my decision based on what I've learned about them in print, social media, streamed video of City Council meetings, and their campaign platforms. Click on their names below for links to their websites.

Ann Tanner, elected to the Carlsbad Unified School District Board of Trustees in 2010, served as president in 2014. During her four years on the board she had to address the divisive issues of balancing budgets, coping with funding cuts, and seeking consensus within the divergent views of her constituents.

I was impressed by Tanner's experience as an elected official and the comprehensiveness and specific priorities in her platform.

1. Require fiscal discipline, balanced budgets and prudent reserves. Deal with the city's $450 million unfunded pension liability by beginning now to fund pensions at 100 percent.

2. Develop support for entrepreneurs, small businesses and emerging technologies, making clean, high tech and research/development businesses a priority.

3. Restore trust and accountability in city government by giving all constituents equal access, providing explanations of all city council votes, and shining a light on campaign contributors' specific agendas.

4. Seek public opinion from all, not just "those who matter," about what to do when the land occupied by the Encina Power Plant is vacated, preferring it to be zoned Open Space for all to enjoy.

5. Return the 48-acre site near the lagoon to TR (Tourist Recreation) zoning, allowing green space for country trails, birding, lookout points, and picnic areas.

6. Reduce building height limit in Village/Barrio Plan back to 35 feet. Make the village walkable and bikeable.

Cori Schumacher, a charismatic leader in the campaign that stopped a developer from polluting a pristine landscape surrounding a city lagoon, she impressed me with her speeches about what was wrong with the developer's project. While the issue drew passionate feelings from both sides, Schumacher relied on facts, not emotions, to make her case.

As does Tanner, Schumacher goes beyond generalizations in describing her priorities.

1. Stop the Council's reliance on the seasonal and unpredictable tourism and hospitality industry. Instead, attract and retain the talent and businesses of the over $250 billion global clean tech industry.

2. Give voters, not developers, control over land use matters.

3. Amend the city's Growth Management Plan to define what amount of growth per 3-5 years is acceptable to decrease the impact of simultaneous, large scale developments.

4. Develop more creative and active methods of engaging residents, listening to them, rather than developers and real estate investors, to make decisions for our community.

5. Restore confidence in the competency and integrity of local government, with more openness, transparency and accountability.

6. Support a transition in Carlsbad to 100% renewable energy by 2035 by allowing residents more choices of energy providers through Community Choice Energy (e.g. See here for Q&A link for Sonoma Clean Power).

Bill Fowler says his reason for running is to stand up to a bully, the current City Council, promising, "I am ready to lead our great small city into a future where we protect our life style, protect our environment, keep our streets safe and have a City Council that listens to our citizens."

Those are excellent goals, but his platform and public comments are aimed mostly at attacking the Council, falling short of the vision of city growth and development described by Tanner and Schumacher.

Brandon Rowley, a 23 year-old recent graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo and San Diego Zoo employee, says he's running for office to "energize and empower young adults to become actively engaged in local government…and bring merit to the idea that younger voters matter in politics."

That's a worthy goal, especially in a city with a history of electing officials of a certain age only. Although Rowley's leadership experience falls short of my top two candidates, I hope he continues to be engaged in local politics. Both his resume and platform are impressive.

Business as usual is no longer acceptable in Carlsbad politics. Ann Tanner and Cori Schumacher have the experience, integrity and talent to begin replacing the elected officials who've been ignoring the best interests of their constituents.