By Allen Payton
There’s an old saying that competition breeds excellence. Why? Because when you compete to win, you’re forced to become better and hopefully, better than your competition, whether it’s in sports, business, politics or, yes, even in education.
Yet, the education establishment and lobby, made up mostly of teachers, administrators and those on the left of the political spectrum in America, California and in Antioch, who have had a hold on education policy for far too long (and how’s that been working for our children?) in general, oppose competition in education. They prefer that all students are educated in government-run schools, where they can be indoctrinated and taught what to learn, not necessarily how to learn. They also want to ensure the money will continue to flow based on how many behinds are in the seats, regardless of whether or not the student gets advanced on to the next grade without mastering what was taught in their current grade level, and then graduating and being sent out into the world, sometimes without even being able to read or write properly.
And they really hate being proven inferior in what and how they teach our children, and just can’t admit it when something or someone else does it better.
They clearly oppose vouchers in K-12 education, giving parents the choice of where best to spend their own tax dollars and send their children to whichever school they want. Yet, that’s exactly what happens with the federal Pell Grant at the college level. If it’s good enough and has been working fine for years at that level, why isn’t it good enough at the K-12 level of education? That makes no sense to me.
The education establishment has learned to live with public charter schools started by a school district. But, they and others on the left, with their nanny-state mentality think they can run our lives better than we can and spend our money better than we can. They also think they can educate our children better than the parents can or private schools, including those run by religious institutions. They complain that it’s not fair that the better and more well-off students get to escape the failing, public institutions and leave the rest of the lower performing students behind.
But, now they’re even opposed to the private, non-profit organizations that run public charter schools, which receive and use public tax dollars. That’s in spite of the fact those schools, like Rocketship’s are taking some of the lowest-performing students and helping them advance at a much faster rate, to where they out perform their former classmates.
Those schools are one of the ways the leaders on the left in our state government have been willing to compromise on the issue, to allow for competition and choice in education to ensure a better one for our students. But, the education establishment and lobby still opposes them and will say and do whatever is necessary to keep them from being approved. Since they can’t win their argument on the merits, they have to come up with other reasons to oppose the more successful programs and schools, like Rocketship’s, such as their charter petition isn’t acceptable or that they can’t achieve what they claim.
Really? Have they not seen the statistics of students in the Rocketship schools? Are they choosing to ignore the facts?
What makes me scratch my head is that those same individuals on the left usually support choice when it comes to killing children before they’re born through abortion on demand and now, even government funding of abortion, but not when it comes to educating them? That makes no sense to me, either.
First of all, they’re our children and grandchildren, not the government’s, the teachers, the faculty’s or the staff’s. Second, the primary educators in children’s lives are their parents or whoever is raising them, be it a guardian or grandparent, not the government, nor the teachers, faculty or staff of any school. They are merely agents of the parents, etc. who are contracted to educate the children during the time they have them each school day. I recognize that not all parents do a good job and just want and expect the public schools to educate their children for them. On the other hand, many parents want a better education for their children, but don’t have the time or ability to home-school them or the means to send them to a private, parochial school and need an option like Rocketship.
Even Antioch’s own Tom Torlakson, a former Antioch Unified teacher and now the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, recognizes that fact and was instrumental in approving Rocketship’s newest charter school in Concord in the Mt. Diablo School District, earlier this year. Interestingly enough, he was backed for office by the California Education Association, the state teachers’ union. It’s time for Tom’s friends and supporters to join him in recognizing what’s best for Antioch’s and California’s public school students.
With the abysmal performance of the students in Antioch elementary schools, we need Rocketship, now more than ever and many parents want the choice of their better performing schools. Hopefully, our school district can learn a thing or two from Rocketship and apply their better practices, for the benefit of all Antioch students, not just those fortunate enough to win the lottery that will be held for students to be included in their new school.
Frankly, while I don’t expect it, seeing who was backed by the local teachers and staff in the most recent election, the bottom line is if the five current Antioch School Board Trustees really care about the education of the students in the district – as they each claim, – they will ignore the district staff’s opposition, and all vote “yes” on Rocketship’s petition, Wednesday night. Anything else is just pandering to a special interest group and not voting in the best interest of the students, their parents or the public.
While my only child, who is a product of a mix of both private and public schools in Antioch, is an adult, now – and he hasn’t yet married and given me any grandchildren, who attend Antioch public schools (but that’s OK, because I’m far too young to be a grandfather), from a self-interest standpoint, I and others without children or grandchildren in district schools will benefit by an improved education for the students. Because, where there are better schools, property values increase, which results in greater property taxes being paid to our city, which results in more and hopefully, better city services, including more police and Code Enforcement, without tax increases, which will reduce crime and blight in Antioch. That will in turn attract executives and business owners to our city to buy the new homes that have recently been approved, and who will bring their businesses and create local jobs in town, so fewer of our residents will have to commute to work. Those folks, in turn will be home earlier each work night, and available to their children and able to be more involved in the community.
So, we all have a stake in improving the education of students in Antioch schools and it can and needs to be an upward spiral, instead of the downward one we’ve been experiencing for the past 10 years.
In Proverbs 27:17 in the Bible it is written “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” So, even working with someone can make you better and it doesn’t always require competition. That’s what needs to happen in the case of Rocketship’s charter school petition. Right now, with Antioch’s proficiency levels in math and English among elementary students being so low, in fact the lowest in school districts in East County, anything that’s proven successful, that can and will improve the education of the students in our district, must be done.
So, instead of working against Rocketship with their proven success rate, the Antioch Unified School District should be working with them. Sure they’re imperfect and can most likely improve on what and how they do things, and can even perhaps learn from things that Antioch schools do different and better. But, Rocketship schools are doing much better than the schools in Antioch and I’d say there’s more for Antioch to learn and benefit from if the relationship is consummated, Wednesday night.
One thing must be said about the recent election and Rocketship’s involvement in it. I don’t appreciate the fact that at least one Rocketship Board member chose to make a contribution to each of Fernando Navarro’s and Alonzo Terry’s campaigns, giving an appearance of an attempt to influence the vote, fodder for their opponents to use it as a sign of some kind of lack of integrity on both the candidates part and Rocketship’s part, and serving to publicly embarrass the candidates. I would advise Rocketship’s CEO and Founder to ensure that doesn’t happen again. How foolish can he and his board members be? What were they thinking would happen?
But, on the other hand, they were small contributions of $125 each and Terry chose to return the contribution to his campaign, and there was nothing illegal about it. At the same time, anyone who opposed those two candidates or uses that as a basis to oppose Rocketship’s charter petition, or expect Navarro – who didn’t return the contribution to his campaign – to recuse himself from the vote, better be consistent and have the same opinion of the candidates backed financially by the Antioch teachers and staff, from whom they received much more money, when it comes time for a vote on their next contracts.
In words similar to what Moses said to Pharoah, when demanding the release of the Israelites from their captivity and enslavement, I say to the school board – “let our students go.” So, my encouragement to the Trustees is to vote for choice in education, vote for competition, vote for excellence, and vote yes on the Rocketship petition.