December 14, 2007

Editorial:

Preuss School Scandal breaks our heart

If the recent audit report on grade fixing had been at any other charter school, it would have been disappointing news, but not necessarily surprising. The fact that it was the Preuss School on the UCSD campus that there was grade fixing and cheating, goes way beyond disappointing and cuts through the heart of the Hispanic/minority communities of San Diego, and through charter schools in general.

Like anything in life, there are good charter schools and there are bad charter schools. Stories of stealing, cheating, and opportunistic individuals looking to make a quick buck have been reported. Then there are the good and in some cases the exceptional school programs that are held up as the shining example of what can be accomplished when a charter school program is done right and has the support of the community. High Tech High is one good example. The Preuss School was equally impressive.

For the Hispanic community and minority communities of San Diego this was a dream come true. The school was created for the express purpose of providing intensive college prep education for motivated low-income students who will become the first in their families to go to and graduate from college. There was a waiting list of students hoping to attend this school. For the parents of these young students this was the answer to their dreams, to see their children go on to college and succeed.

For the minority communities this school was a beacon of hope and opportunity that finally many of the challenges that these communities were facing were, in a small way, being addressed and overcome. The hope was that this program would provide a road map for educational success, and the program for all intents and purposes seemed to be working and was hailed as a success nationwide.

To find out now that the reported success was based on lies breaks our hearts, the shinning star of hope that the school represented has dimmed and brings into question the achievements of all the students from the previous eight years.

This cheating scandal is also a reflection on the whole charter school program itself. It is a reflection of the pressures on administrators and teachers to show success during a time when the whole educational community is focused on testing. Schools, administrators, and teachers, not only in charter schools but in all schools, are judged either a failure or a success based the outcome of the year end test. This puts tremendous pressure on all to a) teach to the test, and b) do whatever it takes to see that the students pass the test. This is not the first report of schools, administrators, or teachers cheating to show success.

The fact that administrators, in this case Doris Alvarez, are pressuring teachers to do whatever it takes to show success, and we repeat here this is not an isolated case of cheating, but reflects a much bigger problem facing the educational community. This is a problem that needs to be addressed and reflects the fact that we are going down the wrong road when it comes to education.

The Board of Directors for Preuss School have started the process of fixing these problems, which is good news for the community. The next step should be to focus on the core goals of the charter and once again restore hope and opportunity for minority communities of San Diego.

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