“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” – Thomas Jefferson, third U.S. President. He set high expectations for their role as government watchdogs – but editors still choose what stories they will cover or ignore.
Visalia Unified School District leaders were probably relieved in February when the local daily newspaper chose to remain silent when the Department of Education revealed seven VUSD schools were on the Department of Education’s list of the “Lowest Performing Schools in California.”
In subsequent weeks, while School Board Trustees were apparently reviewing various measurements of sub-par performance, the public assumed all must be well with our kid’s education. “Certainly, our newspaper would tell us if there were problems – wouldn’t they?” But they didn’t.
So now those Trustees are being roundly criticized for dismissing Superintendent Oto. He was obviously well liked by many administrators, teachers and students in Visalia. Personally, I liked him too. We didn’t always agree but he was always courteous and accessible.
But results do matter. Would those protestors feel differently if they saw the same data that was reviewed by the VUSD Board? Have our students received the quality of education they deserve?
For instance, the California Department of Education rated 42% of the state’s 2018 graduates as being “College/Career Ready.” Visalia held steady versus the previous year at 39% while Clovis rose from 58% to 62%. Fresno Unified’s results soared from 37% to a 43% success rate.
Visalia’s High Schools performed close to state results on “English Language Arts/Literacy” testing. However, statewide, only 31% of high school students met or exceeded expectations on the “Mathematics” test. Locally, El Diamante scored 28%, Mt. Whitney 26%, Redwood 23% and Golden West 18%.
Recently, about 100 Visalia Unified teachers met with the School Board to protest the failing program to deal with disruptive students. Perhaps that frustration contributes to the district’s high turnover rate. According to state records, 22% of VUSD teachers are in just their first or second year in the classroom – versus just 12% statewide. That lack of experience apparently shows up in academic results.
That brings us full circle to President Jefferson’s expectation that newspapers would be our most reliable watchdog over government – including our schools. The bad news story about “The Lowest Performing Schools in California” was covered by virtually every mainstream daily newspaper in the state – but not in Visalia. Publishing that story would have explained why agendas for recent Board meetings included eleven closed sessions to review the management of the district.
Our local students deserve a better education, our teachers deserve safer classrooms and employers deserve graduates better prepared to enter the workforce. And, our schools deserve balanced news coverage so the public understands past results before they hurl insults and threats against our elected board members who did their homework and had the courage to make an unpopular decision.