The controversies surrounding Betsy DeVos’ strong support for school choice hit home just as she took office as secretary of education.

When Diane Ravitch, an education researcher, suggested that DeVos visit successful school districts like San Diego Unified, local teachers unions were furious to find out that the invitation was actually extended on behalf of the district’s board of trustees. Outcry from local teachers eventually caused that invitation to be rescinded.

In this week’s podcast, co-hosts Scott Lewis and Laura Kohn talk more about DeVos and concerns about funneling education funds from traditional public schools into private schools and charter schools.

Voice of San Diego’s education reporter Mario Koran also joins the podcast to explain how San Diego Unified’s impressive 92 percent student graduation rate got a boost from online credit-recovery charter schools.

“If a kid is coming up to graduation time and they’re not on track to graduate, we see a number of those same kids leaving the San Diego Unified schools and going to these credit-recovery high schools,” he said. “It gets those students off the San Diego Unified graduation rolls. So they don’t count anymore. They’re virtually excluded when they go to the charter school.”

Koran said this leads to a bigger question – how prepared are students when they graduate and what is the district doing to help those who are struggling?

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Number of the Week

Five: That’s the number of states that provide school choice vouchers just for low-income students.

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    This article relates to: Education, Good Schools For All, Must Reads

    Written by Adriana Heldiz

    Adriana Heldiz is Voice of San Diego’s Assistant Digital Manager. She makes videos and helps manage the organization’s online presence. Adriana can be reached at

    Dennis James
    Dennis James subscriber

    "No public money for private schools" to paraphrase John from below. At first glance, sure, don't rob public schools. But after thinking about it, of all the public services that government supplies, only public schools and the post office use public employees and a government run structure. 

    The government provides section 8 housing assistance, but it is not limited to use in government built housing staffed by public employees. Those tax dollars flow to private owners.  The government provides food stamps (SNAP) but those benefits are used at private stores. There are no government stores staffed with public employees. The government provides phones and phone service to low income citizens, but the government does not make the phones. All that money goes to private corporations. The defense industry, infrastructure spending, medicare, and more, all those tax dollars end up in private industry.

    The list can go on and on. In fact, public school districts are archaic and inefficient. They are large, slow moving entities. They cannot quickly adjust to changes in student needs. The great value of Charter schools is they can be (and are) closed relatively quickly when they fail. The same cannot be said of traditional public schools. Decades can pass without significant change. Why not try something new?

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    @Dennis James What you seem to be proposing is making children a commodity. That is children need an education and a business needs customers to turn a profit. Children need an education and the local parochial(religious) school needs to fill seats. In neither case is that the goal of a public education. No one is stopping children/parents from placing their children in the school/home of their choice. And, no one is stopping parents in their primary role to raise their children as they see fit at home. That's called balance. That also results in well adjusted and academically ready children for school.

       There is no question that the public school system has its bureaucracy, but many parents don't avail themselves of the open information and public input in their local school district. School districts do very much respond to their communities and do change, often providing the needed education of that community. The local school district is not Sacramento nor D.C.  And, as ridiculous as it may seem, many parents, for whatever reason, do not make time to have a conversation with their child's teacher. That collaboration is often missing, no matter how much outreach a school/teacher/district make to parents. Real change can and does happen per classroom. 

        But, contrary to popular belief, schools don't carry very much money over from one year to the next. And, most school districts scramble each year to keep pace with incoming funds or cuts to funding. Schools operate one year behind because of the annual budget process in the legislature. Bonds are often the only way out for schools to insure infrastructure updates and new schools. 

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    What DeVos proposes is a way out for people who happen to be racist. They don't want their kids to go to a "diverse" environment school. She doesn't propose anything really new. It's the same playbook of racists in the South when "integration" became a mandate. People there sought "private and religious" schools for their kids so they didn't have to "hob nob" with kids of a "colored" persuasion. Republicans also hate unions. And, that has been part of the playbook since the 1970's and their hate has only been relentless. Republicans use the soft pedal of pointing out that certain "inner city schools" are inadequate because of teachers and unions and mandates from D.C. Nothing further could be the truth. Republicans couldn't care less whether children in Bedford-Styvesant or L.A. Central or Hunters Point or South Chicago or South Dallas achieved well academically. The Republicans use people of color or some other human diverse segment as puppets for their program to destroy public education.  They say, "see, your school is not doing well". And, Republicans conclude it must be the fault of bad teachers. Hmm. If someone WANTS to teach in a predominantly low income area, does that mean that person is incompetent? Does it automatically presume that person could not work somewhere else? So, tell me, if someone works for Catholic Relief Services in Africa, they are not doing "god's work"? They are there because they could not find work here? 

    Just for the record. Not everyone can or wishes to teach in any milieu. Teachers teach to teach. Just for the record. Teachers do not make more money than McDonald's managers. 

         People have been sold a bad bill of goods from the Republican Party. It is my opinion that some Republicans are veritable un-American people. 

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    @Ron Hidinger @John H Borja The truth is that money is the issue. The need is for a re-allocation of current funding, especially, for k-8 schools. Republicans hate the word money and they do not want any money going toward increases in teacher salaries. Their mantra is that teachers are overpaid. Unfortunately, teachers are well underpaid in high density urban areas of the U.S. There is a huge teacher shortage today.

    No, the truth is society cannot address the issue of poverty in a blanket program. 

    What society can do is understand that its 'littlest citizens" are under served across the nation. Teachers in the classroom cannot adequately address the issues of poverty. So, what are those issues?

    1. homeless: 20-30 percent of any roster in the classroom in the U.S. is  homeless.

    2. access to health care: ACA and Medicaid don't do an adequate job. Children will audio, visual, and neurological problems have great difficulty getting care.

    3. food: food desserts are prevalent in very low income neighborhoods. That means people eat a bad diet because it is cheaper. And, the gold standard of healthy eating and shopping, like Whole Foods, is totally and completely a luxury. Children do far less well in school with a poor diet. And, the schools only do lunch. That means that many children are starved before lunch will not eat again, well, until lunch the next day. And, they don't eat well at all on the weekends and holidays. 

         The real money issue is about "launching" the children. Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade are absolutely crucial times in a child's academic development.  If a child is not reading and writing at the fourth grade level by the end of third grade, that child begins the horrible slide into a permanent low academic performance. A herculean effort must be made by the 8th grade to have children ready for high school. An there are very few highly intensive programs to address the underlying issues of low academic performance.

           No. What is needed is a clinical triage operation made up of doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and the usual school stakeholders to assist teachers who have already done the preliminary identification of academic and behavioral issues early in kindergarten. And, the "triage unit" monitors the progress of those children until they are formally "launched". 

           If speech, visual, audio, neurological, and family issues are addressed to completion before the 4th grade, academic horizons and behavioral problems are greatly eliminated.  Our juvenile halls and adult prisons are filled with people that do not know how to read and write. It is well documented that a core reason for their incarceration was an initial lack of academic adequacy. True, humans acting against their own self interest will always be a factor. But, the incidence of poor human choices could greatly reduce the prison population.

          Today our cities are segregated. That means that people live where they can. And, while there are strong vestiges of racial discrimination, people have segregated themselves, rich and poor.  Can you place really low income housing in the Long Island Hampton's? Sure. But, who will take the political heat for that? Hmm.

          No. America hates spending on maintenance of our basic infrastructure. And, our public schools are a piece of the American societal infrastructure. 

            There was a time when money was flowing and America was expanding and there was little tracking of those expenditures. Now, society has matured and so have the cities and people are greatly aware of where their money is going. 

             Schools budgets really have an economic lack of elasticity. That means that money comes in through one source and when that source is reduced school budgets get reduce accordingly. Schools cannot forecast beyond the current state budget and cannot easily shift funding on basic expenditures to needed areas. 

           No. More money must be spent at the k-8 level than ever before. It is here that America can see real improvement in our economy. But, we must be patient. This is the most difficult thing for voters to process in their brains. A six year old child, if the plan I suggest is implemented, will be able to demonstrate numerical success only when he or she successfully enters society on their own. And, that rarely happens before a twenty year window has collapsed. That is, he or she, at age 26 has successfully entered the work force. 

            This plan is completely do-able. But, as indicated earlier, very expensive in dollars and political will. America did that once from 1945 to 1965. This can happen again.

    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    @John H Borja

    Thanks for the dissertation John, I always thought successful Anglo Republicans were the reason our Public Education system was failing students so miserably. I do have one question though, how many tenured public education teachers have been fired for poor performance in California in the last 25 years? 

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    @philip piel @John H Borja I don't have those specific numbers. But, I do understand the implied reason for your question. Teachers do not work at Taco Bell. They have arrived at an academic point in their profession which requires a voluminous adherence to regulations. Teachers must comply on many levels well beyond the hourly dictates at the local taco shop. I do know that the public school system works because there are so many personalities, as there are so many personalities in any given classroom. 

       Do teachers make human errors? To that I say do "bears the woods"? The real bottom line is that if some public teachers have a human failing, then some teachers in other environments may also be vulnerable. 

    So your question seems irrelevant. 

         We might as well fire nearly everyone who earns a wage in the U.S.A. 

           But, then we locate the people who are in office to take care of us, Congress, et al, and there are many instances for their real human flaws with real human consequences beyond themselves. 

           The question that we must pose is how to we reduce the incidence of human failure? 

             In business, the thing that makes that work is the question of "what do you bring to the table"?  Teachers bring an honest desire to promote academic improvement. 

    It is common knowledge that if you want to risk "more", you use your intellect to further advance yourself monetarily. 

             It's interesting that only recently we, as a society have begun to question why priests and nuns do what they do. And, there we have seen some real difficulties. 

    We trusted them in the "confessional".

             Teachers are daily accountable to a plethora of regulations from the State to the local school district. They are, indeed, counseled and re-trained as necessary.  In only the most extreme circumstances are teachers removed from service. 

             I have heard of some special cases in New York that I find troubling. But, I am not privy to their circumstances or to the rules that may or may not have been transgressed. 

            But, teachers who teach at parochial schools teach there for entirely different reasons. And, I respect that. 

            But, to take my tax dollars and transfer them to vouchers for parents to submit to parochial and other private schools counters the intent of a public school program. 

              That improvements in teacher training at the university level is something I would support. 

               What people do not understand is that children change at poignant points. So, a teacher may well be suited to teach AP physics, but may struggle teaching kindergarten.  So, competence is a very complicated thing. 

                Children, must be protected in all and any circumstance. Any violation of that promise must be swiftly acted upon. 

                 But, to say that a child who tests poorly and another child tests poorly the next year and another child tests poorly still another year is the singular fault of ONE teacher is patently ludicrous. 

                  Why? a word? Circumstances.

    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    @John H Borja @philip piel

    Please don't equate the fine folks at Taco Bell with unionized public employees, they actually have a job description AND performance evaluations that mean something.

    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    @John H Borja

    John, I ask a simple question which goes to the core of your stated beliefs and you're unable / unwilling to answer. This leads me to question the veracity of your entire position. There are numerous articles, editorials and studies regarding teachers being hidden away with compensation instead of being terminated for the sole reason the termination process is too cumbersome and expensive.

    You speak of the failure of Federal Public Education and the inherent racism involved yet seem to gloss over the fact that the Department of Education was founded as a gift to unions who supported President Carter's campaign. The fact is the same unions you condone are and have been the rudder for public education's Titanic.

    Infrastructure and the lack of funding / investment? Perhaps you can explain why one of your examples, the Los Angeles Unified School District along with San Diego Unified denies opportunity to local non-union apprentices on their school construction projects? Simple question John, why would a school district steeped in a doctrine of fairness, non-discrimination and a mandate to do what's best for their students deny local STATE APPROVED construction apprentices the ability to support themselves / family for the SOLE reason the apprentices are non-union?

    Another question John, if unions are so great why is it compulsory to belong? Why would an American citizen be forced to pay a tax (union dues) to work on a tax payer funded job?

    It would appear you have selective outrage regarding discrimination, the end seems to justify the mean. I'm going to take a guess here and infer you're in favor of affirmative action, you know, discrimination used to fight discrimination. 

    Public education in your mind seems to take the place of a stable home environment becoming surrogate parents in the quest to mold good citizens. I can understand this as who wouldn't want to deflect from the inability of the education system to provide the much easier task of teaching basic reading, writing and arithmetic? 

    Personal responsibility, motivation, the ability to compete and self reliance are racial terms perpetrated by "un-American" Republicans in your world. You want the government to mandate results instead of opportunity yet you can't name one single government entity that operates at an acceptable level. After 8 years of enlightenment you can't fathom the possibility of a Trump presidency based on accountability.

    John, your social science experiment looks great on paper but gets a little long in the tooth with excuses of outside forces holding people back in the greatest democracy the world has ever seen. 

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    @philip piel @John H Borja  I'm sorry, but you are completely misinformed. Teachers do have a multi-layered job description and it only begins with California Education Code. 

    Evaluations tend to be meaningless for teachers as well. Evaluations are conducted by one individual(the principal), who is no longer a member of a collective bargaining group. But, more importantly, the evaluation, while well delineated, often allows for great latitude, inconsistency, and even caprice on the part of the evaluator.  And, numbers do lie, in case of test scores. Right, the test results may be uncontested, but the underlying meaning may be lost in the translation. 

    Why test scores are showing great results in Palo Alto,Ca. and poorly in Bakerfield is complicated and not, necessarily, due to "bad" teachers. 

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    @philip piel @John H Borja  I do understand your point of view as regards family and personal responsibility. And, my point(s), while admittedly poorly written, did not explain how a family should behave. There is the normative in all of us. That is, 'it should be,'it could be, and 'it would be....if. 

      Unfortunately, the teacher can only do so much and I would say teachers would like to do more. 

       Teachers cannot go with their students home to teach another four hours to their families. There comes a point where families must take the proverbial bull by the horns and take control and provide a home environment conducive to learning. 

    The problem is that between 20 to 30 percent of any classroom across America are students on a roster whose problems cannot be addressed by the teacher without impacting the academic growth of the other children in class. 

         Yes, of course, teachers are taught to provide small group individualized instruction and do so very well.  But, for many teachers, not well enough. 

         And, the instruction k-6 is not the same at 7-8 nor 9-12. Why? The building blocks are getting higher and the children are maturing. 

          Yes. I get it. You may think teachers are just coming up with excuses. And, from your possible perspective they may be. But, in my case, I was a graduate of college thinking I had what it took to raise my kids to be successful. Wrong. I did a "180" on them having had an opportunity to help, for two months in a kindergarten class. My expectations of my kids soared and their joy in growing up and learning was achieved. 

          I don't expect everyone to have that experience nor that result, but I do believe the community and parents, in particular, should take a greater interest in their local school and...even participate in a classroom or two.

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    @philip piel @John H Borja  We have all been fed the misinformation regarding unions. Unions and the fees help to countervail the natural ambitions of running a business.  There have, indeed, been abuses over the last 100 years in the difficult relationship between personnel and administration. Those abuses have been addressed and we are now in a more nuanced era. 

    Workers and administration(owners, et al) have experienced big changes and much of it had/has little to do with either. 

    Business needs workers and workers need jobs. Simple. How that rolls out is very complicated. And fairness means different things to either side. Collaboration and transparency should prevail in order to achieve what both want.

    Fees. The unions represent the workers through those fees. The unions represent workers through all their issues. 

    People think that unions only represent a single point of view or party. Wrong. They help represent workers at all levels of government, just like companies represent their business through political PACS and the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. That costs money.

    Is there an inherent struggle?....of course! Should there be an inherent struggle? Yes. We are in a democracy and everyone should be heard. Laws have been written for business and for labor, not just one.

    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    @John H Borja @philip piel

    Thanks John, well written response. First I think a clarification may help, "bad" teachers must be lumped in with the good when it comes to the actions of their union. In California the teachers union is one of the most powerful lobbying entities. The Teacher's union has a hand in appointing every top level education official in the state, failure to garner the blessing of the union is more or less the end of an appointment / election.

    I am well versed in public education as my wife was a Dual Immersion teacher with her Master's Degree for 20 years. I know quite well the difference between good and bad teachers and the mixture of both that meant well in the beginning but eventually just got worn down with "the system."

    My problem with the Teacher's Union is they betray themselves as the "Student's Union" when convenient. I was one of the people taxed via Prop 30 for education. The same system that believes everyone should have an education (illegal aliens)  is really concerned with seats being occupied for the purposes of funding, regardless who is sitting in them. Massive resources spent on children here illegally while inner city citizen kids wallow in indifference. This system wants to be everything to everybody yet makes it virtually impossible to get rid of the dead weight (bad teachers / administrators). So I'm being taxed, not for the children, I'm being taxed to pay for the inability / unwillingness of public education to manage their employees.

    Bad teachers aren't nearly the problem that the failure to dismiss them is. I don't blame a bad person or bad employee for being bad I blame the system in place that tolerates mediocrity or in this case worse, adults who shouldn't be withing 50 miles of children.

    There is a fundamental problem here, writing it off as racism, while convenient will do nothing other than prop up a failed system with yet more feel good measures funded by those who are deemed to have more then they need. Public Education must get out of the "good citizen" business and focus on graduating people who have basic understanding of core academics. Children are employees of tax payers, their job is to graduate 12th grade with an education that affords them to take advantage of opportunity, different children will have different choices regarding the path they take as adults. Those paths may not be equal for all depending on various factors. If any of those factors are based on anything other than the child's ability or willingness to put forth effort that is a problem, a problem public education can't solve. Social problems can best be dealt with in a Kinder - 12th grade education system through discipline, consistency, accountability and fiscal responsibility.