State Senate Candidate David Pollock of Moorpark, CA has responded to my concerns, which I posted at http://skrashen.blogspot.com/2016/05/too-little-discussion-about-education.html (I sent copies of my statement to all the candidates who were listed on twitter.)
Mr. Pollock has generously given me permission to share his comments. It is good to know that at least one candidate is aware of the issues I brought up, and clearly understands their importance.
I appreciated seeing your article, and I think we are in violent agreement on most key issues in education. Just as a matter of background, I started my career as a certified ground and flight instructor (just like teaching K-12, except your students try to kill you every day). I took an active interest in my local (Moorpark) schools in 1992 when my two children started attending, and I chaired the district's Committee for Effective Schools. We recommended, and the school board adopted, a series of reforms that included distinctive instructional programs at each school and voluntary enrollment from outside attendance boundaries. I was elected to the school board in 1994, primarily to oversee implementation of the reforms. I eventually became president of the California School Boards Association and have also served on WASC accreditation teams for high schools in California.
I agree that we have to be careful about preschool programs. I alway refer to "quality" preschool programs, but I agree that they should also be developmental in nature. It is no secret that kids learn through play. In fact, I think we need to infuse higher grades with more time to play and explore. I think quality preschool programs are particularly important for kids in poverty who have less exposure to cognitive stimulation including bright colors and articulate conversation.
I am aware of the push for STEM instruction and worry about that too. In Moorpark, only one of our six elementary schools specializes in STEM instruction (it's called the Flory Academy for Science and Technology and is a NASA Explorer School). Other schools specialize in cultural literacy (Core Knowledge), active learning, performing arts, etc. The point is, there is no one "right" way to teach children and school districts should embrace variety. And in case anyone doubts this is a good strategy, I point out that during my 15 years on the school board, Moorpark won the U.S. Academic Decathlon four times.
As for technology in schools, our emphasis was on technology for teachers. We invested in Prometheus boards for every classroom as a multi-media presentation tool for instruction. This was a big push of mine as a member if the Technology Strategic Planning Committee for the district. As far as computers for instructional use, I see it as just one tool in good RTI methods. Use the computers for kids that need access beyond the lesson plan and have the teacher focus on directed instruction for those students that are struggling. I'm a big fan of the Kahn Academy for independent study.
Yes, I am a big believer in libraries. It think we have some of the best school libraries in the area, and in my work on the city council, we are planning a brand new public library based on what has been successful in other communities.
I was on the school board when Prop. 227 was passed and, since we still believe bilingual programs were succeeding for many of our students, we utilized the "one month" rule to identify students that would benefit from bilingual programs and then secured parental permission to place them in that environment. I haven't read the new proposed initiative, but to the extent that it frees school districts to do what is most successful for kids, I am in favor.
There is an old farmers adage that goes, "weighing the pig does not make it fatter." I have railed against high-stakes testing from the beginning. While I agree that there most be some norm-based testing for summative purposes, I think the primary purpose of any testing must be useful diagnostics as feedback to the teacher. And so long as teachers are routinely checking for understanding, I think the need for formal testing should be minimal.
Whether or not competency-based testing proves to be effective, I still believe that testing should be minimal and largely discretionary. We only need to do enough formal testing necessary for summative purposes, but, again, testing should be a routine matter of checking for understanding and for genuine diagnostic purposes.
I appreciate you asking these questions and welcome your advice. I intend to be on the Senate Education Committee to help restore California's schools as the gold standard of public education.