Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Meet Arlene Ackerman, the woman who shook up San Francisco's schools

No person deserves more credit for introducing a robust school choice system to San Francisco than Arlene Ackerman, 59, the district's superintendent since 2000. The city had experimented with open enrollment since the '70s, but it was Ackerman who made the size of a school's budget dependent on the number of students who attended the institution, thus introducing a market-like feedback mechanism; it was Ackerman who gave schools the autonomy to use those budgets as they saw fit; and it was Ackerman who made parental preferences the first criterion for school assignment.

Her relationship with the Board of Education has been frequently stormy, in part because of ideological differences and in part because of her management style, which critics consider autocratic. Indeed, she will be leaving the district at the end of the school year, invoking an "incompatibility" clause in her contract that allows her to resign with severance pay. But while in office, she was able to introduce some radical changes to the ways the city educates its children, and student achievement improved immensely as a result.

Despite her departure, Ackerman is optimistic about the future of the reforms she put into place. She is now bound for Columbia University Teachers College, where she will run a leadership program for aspiring superintendents. Lisa Snell spoke with her in January 2006.

Reason: How did the weighted student formula get put into practice in San Francisco?

Arlene Ackerman: We started with a year-long pilot program. We took a cross-section of about 27 schools-schools that had a lot of parent involvement and schools that didn't have a lot of parent involvement. That gave us an opportunity to look at what kind of resources we needed at the district level and what kinds of support the schools would need regardless of the conditions on their individual campuses. We paid them $200 per student to participate. We went full-scale the second year.

Reason: What has been the impact of the new system?

Ackerman: Five consecutive years of academic improvement for all groups of students at every level. I mean all groups-even special ed. When I first came to the district, the African-American students' achievement was going backwards. We reversed that. The last two years we have been the highest-performing large urban school district in California. This last year we were up for the Broad Prize as one of the five top urban school systems in the country. I'd say that's pretty good. I'd link our success not only to the weighted student formula but to the fact that the formula is linked to an academic planning process that's based on trend data and performance targets that every school has to meet.

Reason: What's the role of school choice?

Ackerman: As a school's academic performance index gets better, the school becomes more desirable to parents. We had schools that were 8s [in their academic performance index rating] that are now 10s and schools that were 3s that are now 6s and 7s. When I arrived six years ago, those were not schools that parents were choosing. Now they are, because their academic performance has increased and they are much more desirable.

A new union president came in about three years ago who wanted to get rid of the weighted student formula. There was a resounding no from the majority of the schools because they like making the decisions. For example, we've had to make deep cuts for the last three years. In the past those decisions were made in the central office. Many of the schools felt that was inappropriate because the central office is too far away from the needs of the students. Even when it's been difficult to make hard choices, I've heard parents and principals and teachers say that they'd rather make those choices than someone else.

Reason: What do you think is the future of school choice and the weighted student formula in San Francisco?

Ackerman: I'm not really worried about the weighted student formula and the academic planning process because I think people in the schools really appreciate it. As for the student assignment process, we just have to wait and see. The board is very split on whether or not race should be used as one of the guidelines for choice. I think they are going to adjust the diversity index [part of the formula for determining who can attend popular schools], and one of the new factors might be race. I'm proud of the work I've done in San Francisco. This is a great city, and I leave a legacy that I know is going to continue after I am gone.



Does anybody really think homosexual activists aren't trying to push their lifestyle on America -- as opposed to merely striving to avoid discrimination? A few recent news items shed some light on the subject.

Scott Savage, a librarian at Ohio State University at Mansfield, got a quick lesson in "tolerance" while serving on a committee responsible for selecting books for incoming OSU students to read as part of their "First Year Reading Experience." Savage, a devout Quaker, recommended that a number of conservative-oriented books be added to the list, to balance other books on the list, many of which reportedly had a liberal slant. Savage recommended four books, "The Marketing of Evil," by David Kupelian, "The Professors," by David Horowitz, "Eurabia: the Euro-Arab Axis," by Bat Ye'or, and "It Takes a Family," by Sen. Rick Santorum. How dare he? Won't he ever learn the proper lessons of selective censorship? The school had earlier investigated him for recommending other forbidden conservative books to freshmen students.

But I guess the request to place these dread screeds on a formal school list was just way too rebellious for anyone employed by an institution of higher learning priding itself in maintaining an environment of academic freedom and open inquiry. Three professors strenuously objected to Savage's suggestions, describing the Kupelian book as "hate literature," and "homophobic tripe." The professors, two of whom are homosexual, said the inclusion of these books on the list made them feel threatened and unsafe on campus.

Now get this -- if you haven't already heard: The faculty voted to support the professors' claims and the school began an investigation against Savage for sexual harassment. Sexual harassment? We are talking about book recommendations here, not words or action against specific individuals. This complaint, on its face, was offensively absurd. You can't have sexual harassment without a victim -- without some form of mistreatment of specific individuals. The homosexual community is the first to cry intolerance at the slightest perceived indignity, yet these professors refused to tolerate the innocuous recommendation of a few books whose message they apparently don't agree with. They not only sought to suppress opposing ideas, but conspired to punish a man trying to present those ideas.

You have to be a semantic contortionist not to realize that any intolerance or hate speech involved in this episode emanated from the professors and their supporting faculty. Then again, conservative thought is obviously not entitled to the same degree of protection, if any, and anti-conservative propaganda is promoted in much of liberal academia. We can only imagine what goes on in these professors' classrooms that we don't hear about. What these professors, then the faculty and school, did to Mr. Savage comes much closer to harassment than what he did to the professors, which was absolutely nothing. Apparently someone at the school finally figured that out because the malicious and frivolous charges against Savage were dropped.

But Savage's attorney, David French, said that merely dropping the complaint doesn't repair the damage to his client's reputation and career. He is considering litigation. I think he should seriously consider going forward with litigation against the people and institutions involved. Radical homosexual groups routinely characterize the utterance of opposing opinions -- just as in this incident -- as hate speech and seek to ban it. They frequently seek to have the expression of opinions running counter to their dogma, branded as harassment or bullying, to make it easier to stigmatize those daring to disagree. Well, in this case -- if the allegations are true -- the professors appear to be guilty of that which they were accusing Savage: harassment.

You have to be naive not to recognize that the radical homosexual lobby is pushing its lifestyle on American society and using intimidation tactics, such as we see here, to compel society's acceptance of homosexual behavior as mainstream or normal. They say they just want to live and let live, but many of them want far more than that. They want to live free of harassment themselves, which I'm all for, but it doesn't appear they want to accord similar respect to those not sharing their views.

If anyone doubts the aggressive intentions of the radical homosexual lobby, he should read the recent news report about a second-grade school teacher in Massachusetts reading to her class a fantasy book about two princes getting married. Objecting parents can't even opt out their children from these experiences because same-sex marriage has been decreed legal by the high priests of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Here we see what radical homosexual activism fueled by radical judicial activism has wrought. It's difficult to understand how there can be so much apathy as we witness such ongoing assaults on our culture.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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