UPforEd and a few of its parent activists attended the San Diego mayoral debate on education Tuesday at the University of San Diego. The debate between San Diego mayoral candidates Representative Bob Filner and Councilman Carl DeMaio covered their views on the role of parents in San Diego city schools.
Speaking before a packed house with nationally-syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, Jr., both politicians expressed a deep commitment to improving public education, but managed to ruffle few feathers, present few innovative ideas or surprise the audience beyond the predictable, safe sound bites, such as "I love teachers" and "parents must be involved."
The candidates' view on parent involvement in schools and the current state of public education varied widely between them.
DeMaio said he wants to utilize parents to change a system he views as completely broken. Trumpeting his "change agent" brand, he believe parents should have a “seat at the table” when the district is making decisions in order to challenge the system to improve.
And while he clearly recognizes the importance of the parents' job at home, he indicated that parents, and even students, could play a bigger, more powerful role in decision making.
DeMaio believes choice, competition, performance accountability, teacher evaluation and school-parent-community partnerships are all needed to reform education.
He said he is not likely to support new taxes to fund education without some reform measures included in the legislation.
Conversely, Bob Filner wants parents to “be engaged” in the system as it stands. He said voting for additional funding by raising taxes for education will help solve the problems within.
Filner advocated for both Proposition 30 and Proposition Z, which he endorses, and said more money would go a long way to improving student outcomes. He noted that California is ranked 47th in education funding—always a shocking fact for parents.
Also, Filner mentioned the importance of after-school programs and college admittance.
DeMaio and Filner both insisted they would be mayors seeking bi-partisan and collaborative partnerships and used the buzz word, “accountability,” frequently. Both insisted that neither would change the city charter to give the city more control over San Diego city schools.
Most interesting, they side-stepped the tough questions. For instance, when asked whether they thought adult interests trumped the interests of students in education neither candidate answered definitively.
From the parent perspective, the styles of these two different mayoral candidates underscored the sort of ideological conflicts dogging the education community daily: proactive, systemic change versus more money to fund the status quo system.
For parents subscribing to one belief over another, the choice for San Diego mayor should be crystal clear.