Letters for May 19 

Readers sound off on Edible Schoolyard, the rave scene, charter schools, and more.

"John Williams: Believe Him (Or Not)," Feature, 5/5

Where's Ravi?

Upon reading Chris Thompson's article I was flabbergasted. There was no mention of the best known of the alternative economists, Ravi Batra.

Pitting a Right Wing Libertarian against the apologists for Hyper-Corporatism seems like a deliberate attempt to avoid talking about the biggest cause of our economic troubles, the increasingly regressive tax structure.

Stan Moore, Berkeley

Bolding Insults Me

Your new usage of bold type in feature articles unnerves me in ways that eerily parallel your May 5-11 article "Believe Him (Or Not)." A prominent mistake is found in your misquoting of Peter Schiff's quote "I'll be him a lot more than a penny," and toward the end of the article, the author Chris Thompson writes "The media took its hit long ago" in regards to declining public faith in the institutions that are supposed to inform and govern our lives. Is perhaps your newly distracted editorial function too devoted to boldfacing people's names in feature articles, à la "three dot" round-up columns, than tracking down significant content mistakes? I feel that your readership's intelligence is insulted, and that the quality of your reporting declines with this tabloid-style boldfacing. Does the pot lose face in called (sic) the kettle balck (sic)?

Landon Phillips, Oakland

"Jerry's Kids and the Real Lessons Learned," Full Disclosure, 4/28

The Model Is Replicable

Thanks to reporter Robert Gammon for illuminating a few important issues in public education: inadequate funding and student achievement. While for the most part the piece was balanced and factual, I would like to offer a few insights here that hopefully will enter the ongoing dialogue about education and how to evaluate it.

One of Mr. Gammon's premises is that the work of schools like Oakland School for the Arts is not replicable because of the robust fund-raising we are able to do. Rather than accept that statement, why not view what OSA has achieved as a model for other private/public partnerships in the schools? OSA attracts funders that are interested in the arts, the Oakland Military Institute inspires donors who value that specific educational model, and other public charter schools have donor bases of contributors who believe in the particular mission of their school. Having been a school administrator in a large urban school district before entering the charter school world, I can only wish that I had acquired that entrepreneurial spirit years earlier. One issue may be that California needs more schools that offer a specialized educational model: the arts, community service, business and commerce, youth leadership — specific models that offer a purposeful, focused education for students and inspire donors with interest in the curricular area the school covers. If this were the case, if schools evolve into specialized educational providers with a recognizable "brand," I think the public would be surprised by how replicable this fund-raising model can be.

And about the test scores: the adherence to this narrow, static measurement defies all logic. The teachers' union president who comments that our test scores should go through the roof because of our fund-raising is also, if I am correct, adamantly against any kind of merit pay system for teachers based on test scores. We need to be very clear about the value and usage of this all-too-visible measurement. While we certainly use our achievement ranking as one gauge of our success, the intrinsic worth of a school is so much more than a single score. In the case of the Oakland School for the Arts, we also are part of an urban renewal initiative that has helped revitalize the exciting Uptown district. Around the country, other cities are taking up the call: I was recently contacted by the educational community in Cincinnati, where a brand new arts school facility is the cornerstone of their revitalization effort in the Over the Rhine neighborhood. And of course, our neighbors in San Francisco continue to carry the torch of placing their arts high school in the downtown arts corridor.

All of this points to the fact that schools like OSA offer a new educational paradigm: entrepreneurial, mission-focused, and a vital part of the community they serve. Rather than write this off as a specialty event that can't be replicated, we should use this model as a call to action and continue to create schools that inspire the public to contribute in significant ways to the future we envision.

Donn K. Harris, Executive Director, Oakland School for the Arts

Alternatives to the Capitalist Mindset

Interesting how different people can look at the same set of factors and come to starkly different conclusions of "reality," just as people once looked out over the horizon and deduced that the world was flat, while others looked at that same horizon and deduced the world was a globe.Let's start with the premise that test scores are the indicator of excellence. That is wide open to debate, and I'd encourage everyone to look closely at all sides of that debate. Gammon throws that point a bone, but his bias is fairly evident. Rather than offer a counterpoint to each of Gammon's assertions — which I could but this letter would get really long — I would like to offer this:There are many mainstream memes about education that are simply destructive. Public education is grossly underfunded, yet we are bombarded with the message that "throwing money at it won't fix the problem." How do we know? Apparently throwing money at everything else would seem to be an unquestioned response (witness our "stimulus" dollars at work), so why don't we try it with education before dismissing money as a factor? Educrats insist on a narrow path for kids based on an assembly-line mentality: we want "results" so pack them on the conveyer belt, process them, and ship them out. The trouble is, kids are not products, they are vulnerable human beings, thus the metaphor of schools following a "business model" is fundamentally flawed, and we need, as a society, to think more in terms of civic models, or family models, or other humanistic models for schools. For kids who are not going to be churned into the next mindless capitalist, there needs to be alternatives. Unfortunately, the constraints set upon the public schools allow very little flexibility at this time. Until we wake up, I am grateful for an alternative for my child. Thank you for OSA, Jerry Brown.


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