Capitalists and communists in S.F. schools

Debra J. Saunders

1/29/2001 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
If you knew that students at the San Francisco Edison Charter Academy, which is run by Edison Schools Inc. of New York, were reading appreciably better, would you still oppose the school? (According to School Wise Press, a private company that provides parents with statistics on public schools, the percentage of Edison students scoring above average in reading jumped from 14 percent in 1998 to 32 percent today and those scoring above average in math rose from 24 percent in 1998 to 42 percent.) "Yes," he would still oppose Edison, city school board member Mark Sanchez told the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board Wednesday. "I am personally saying that. I am philosophically against a corporation running a school, and I don't want you to ignore the fact that the population has changed." That last comment has to do with Sanchez's argument that even though scores at Edison have risen significantly since Edison Inc. -- it's a coincidence both the school and the company share the inventor's name -- took over, he believes the scores are better because the school is teaching proportionately fewer African American students. He sees Edison Inc. as operating "on the backs of new teachers." Would he go after Edison even if it helps more kids? "Yes," he answered, "I'm a teacher." Some teacher -- he supports firing Edison even if it means more kids will read below average. Fellow school board commissar Jill Wynns said in the editorial board session that the question poses a false choice. She too maintains that Edison scores have risen because Edison had recruited more middle-class students. She berates Edison Inc. for not presenting "matched scores" -- that is, tracking the progress of individual students -- while she herself failed to present matched scores to prove that Edison isn't working minor miracles. Why not? "That's something that we're not able to do yet or that we haven't done," she explained. Huh? Funny. I called the proper district department and was told the district had crunched matched scores for Edison students months ago. The numbers demonstrate "significant" improvement in reading and math between 1999 and 2000. Figure Wynns and company don't want to know if the kids are learning more than before. Wynns and Sanchez style themselves as advocates for fairness. It's not fair, they argue, that Edison kids get more money than other students. (Is it fair to take away Edison management so that the school's poor, minority students don't get all the extras that help them learn more.) It's not right that Edison uses less experienced teachers, they say. (It doesn't matter if those less experienced teachers manage to get better than usual results?) Wynns faults Edison Inc. for being too corporate, for teaching as if there's "one answer to education." The anti-corporate bureaucrat finds this approach unconscionable. She apparently recognizes no irony in her using her weight to make sure that her board is the sole power at the school. (Wynns argues that former district Superintendent Bill Rojas purposefully dumbed down Edison so that Edison Inc. would have to save it. "That was sort of part of the plan," she told The Chronicle. "You needed to make it as terrible as you could. You had to have had places that were so bad that you could say, "I have the solution. I'm the savior."") What about parents who love Edison? The commissars explained that parents shouldn't expect to have a choice on this issue. Might makes right. What about the kids? Sacrifice them to the fairness gods. If the board can't distribute learning evenly, must it settle for distributing ignorance all around? What about the board? In the course of some 100 minutes before the editorial board, Wynns wondered which math and reading programs taught in the city work better. She didn't realize how bad she looked for never having bothered to find out the answers to those questions. Wynns wouldn't even take a position on the district's math curriculum. Isn't that her job? Sanchez seemed more outraged that Edison was recruiting a smaller percentage of black students than he was at the abysmal reading scores for black students. It seems illiteracy is, if not accept able, then excusable when the board runs schools. The enemy should be ignorance, yet with Wynns and Sanchez the enemy appears to be modest success. They say they oppose corporations. Odd, they are pushing for capitalism (read: more money) for teachers, but communism (an even distribution of ignorance) for the kids. Politically correct board members may not know what works in public schools, but they know fair.