October 20, 2000
By Mike MacCarthy
With election day just a few weeks away, San Diego County is now awash in rosy statistics about the accomplishments of our public schools. But the facts are that in the San Diego City Schools System (SDCS) the Stanford 9 (SAT 9) results have been selectively presented for maximum political advantage in the city school board elections. That's because Superintendent Alan Bersin and his three-vote majority (Ottinger, Lopez, Braun) on the city school board know they can ignore with impunity families and children who live in poverty, don't speak English, or don't understand their legal rights. Such people seldom vote.
Mr. Bersin and company aren't interested in the test scores of ALL the childrenjust those who took the SAT 9 test. Item: How is it that 7,000 7th and 8th graders didn't take the SAT 9 tests? And why were so many city children whose parents do not speak English encouraged to keep their children home on the day of the tests? Worse yet, the SAT 9 test is not aligned with California State Academic Standards, for which all public school students are responsible in order to graduate from high school. Also, there's an "augmentation test" that Harcourt Brace administers in conjunction with the SAT 9 test that is aligned with state standards. Please note that those test results have not been announced by SDCS.
But the worst failure by Superintendent Bersin on behalf of the poor and underprivileged is in the area of special education. Last April, the state of California sued SDCS for its lack of compliance (Superior Court case # GIC 747122) with federal and state laws concerning special education. SDCS has denied the charges, but few of its policies have changed. Governor Davis, Dede Alpert, Susan Davis as well as most of the state education establishment have looked the other way. The result is that during this school year thousands of city children who currently have desperate need of special education services will be once again consigned to second and third-class status while Mr. Bersin et al continue to reassure an uninformed public that all is well in SDCS.
If 10,0000-20,000 city children went home sick because of rancid food in the cafeterias, schools would be closed and a high profile investigation would follow. Given that these many children are currently receiving sub-standard educational services in San Diego city public schools, isn't it time citizens, parents, and public officials took the same kind of direct corrective action? The ballot box would be a good start, and it would certainly help those who are committed to doing the right thingpeople like Fran Zimmerman, Tanja McCoy, and Augie Castille.
Mike MacCarthy is a freelance writer and Publisher/Editor of San Diego Writer's Monthly.