The AIM issue has definitely had some polarizing moments. There were certainly times when the rhetoric from the public was a bit over-the-top. On the other hand, considering the passion of this community, I was impressed on Thursday night that the tone of the conversation was generally positive – with strong and articulate points on both sides of the issue.
Yes, there were moments when people crossed the line, threatening recall and charter schools, accusing some school board members of lying to constituents before the election. There was a point when an impassioned music teacher momentarily vented some frustrations, but for the most part the discussion on Thursday was clean, it was thoughtful, and, those few moments to the contrary – at least from my seat – were few and far between.
As such, I was rather stunned by the portrayal of the meeting in the Davis Enterprise. Reporter Jeff Hudson has been doing this a long time. I have never had a personal reason to dislike the man – he is affable, he is an institution, and one board member referred to him this year as the “unofficial sixth board member.” He has always been friendly and helpful to me when I have attended the meetings.
But I think, unfortunately, the tone he has portrayed at the outset of his two articles on the meeting – Friday’s and this morning’s – has been over-the-top and blatantly misleading and untrue. For reasons that do not seem to make sense, he has seemed to be intentionally attempting to stoke the flames of passion.
On Friday Jeff Hudson wrote: “With AIM supporters threatening a recall of board members and expressing growing interest in starting a charter school, the Davis Board of Education adjourned a six-hour meeting early this morning after taking no action on the controversial Alternative Instructional Model (AIM, formerly GATE).”
There are several different parts of this that are misleading at best.
First, the paragraph implies that the school board had intended to take action but did not in the face of this dissent from the public. This is completely misleading.
This was agendized as an informational and discussion item. The agenda states, “Receive and review the DJUSD AIM report and recommendations produced pursuant to the Board of Education direction given to the Superintendent on June 4.”
While the staff made a four-part recommendation, it stated in bold, “These four recommendations and/or any modifications to these recommendations will return for Board action October 15, 2015.”
The idea was to discuss the recommendations, hear from the public, and then bring it back in October for action. Anyone reading Mr. Hudson’s article and seeing the headline, “School board takes no action on AIM program,” would think otherwise – which is completely misleading.
The second part that is misleading is that Mr. Hudson mentions the threat of recall and a “growing interest in starting a charter school,” The threat of recall came from one person who spoke early in public comment. There may have been a few calls for a charter school, but for the most part the comments were informative rather than inflammatory.
Jeff Hudson follows up his article with an article this morning, entitled, “AIM debate boils over.” He leads with, “Is the rhetoric in the long discussion of proposed changes in the Davis school district’s AIM program getting out of hand? Toward the end of Thursday night’s school board meeting — where the AIM debate consumed more than five hours — several speakers suggested that some comments were getting out of hand.”
Mr. Hudson misquotes Katherine Unger in bolstering his point. She actually quoted Lawrence Kohlberg, a renowned psychologist at the University of Chicago, citing his classic work on moral development, when she defined “fairness in young children at the initial stages of moral development as fairness means that everyone gets the same, when in reality the definition of fairness is that everyone gets what he or she needs.”
She then said, “Equal and fair are not the same.” She then closed with a quote from Plato, “It is better in fact to be guilty of manslaughter than of fraud about what is fair and just.”
Mr. Hudson quoted Ms. Unger as, “Unger argued that AIM enrollment should not be reduced because ‘the definition of fairness is that everyone gets what he or she needs. Equal and fair are not the same. I’ll close by quoting Plato: “It is better in fact to be guilty of manslaughter than of fraud about what is fair and just.”‘ ”
Ms. Unger’s quote of Plato was actually a comment regarding the importance of not being a fraud about fairness and justice. Unfortunately, Greg Brucker, who said he was distressed by “extreme nastiness” in some remarks, said, “Someone went as far to make a reference to manslaughter. This is absurd!”
In retrospect, the quote on Plato was probably ill-considered, however, characterizing it as a “reference to manslaughter” was inaccurate.
One of the disturbing aspects of this debate has been the mis-characterization of the arguments on both sides of the issue.
Teacher Leslie Whiteford said certain AIM parents have “some preconceived notion that AIM teachers are the only ones who know how to differentiate. I take exception to that, on behalf of all the neighborhood teachers. I’m wondering why we keep focusing on the idea that neighborhood teachers can’t do it.”
My view is different. I don’t view the desire by parents to have their kids in a self-contained AIM program as an attack on neighborhood teachers any more than my wife and my decision to send our daughter to Montgomery for dual immersion is an attack on Pioneer.
In fact, our nephew is a six grader at Pioneer, this is his third year there and we are very pleased with his progress there. However, we wanted our daughter to have a Spanish language background as part of her education and so we made the choice to send her to the dual immersion program instead of the neighborhood school.
I came away impressed by the level of the comments and the expertise in the audience. For instance, and this is by no means alone, Tom Sallee, the husband of former board member Joan Sallee, related his experience in training math teachers on differentiated instruction, and warned the board that if they wish to be able to achieve differentiated instruction, they need among other things much smaller classrooms than we presently have.
I thought the comments by most of the public and the board were both thoughtful and well considered. There are certainly many differences of opinion, but it is still my hope that the board can come together and find some form of consensus.
I therefore have to question the reporting and judgment of Jeff Hudson, as I did back in 2009. On March 30, 2009, the Vanguard reported that it had learned “that Davis Enterprise Reporter Jeff Hudson, who has covered the Davis School District for ten years, has also been working for Tahir Ahad since August 2008 on an educational newsletter called EdBrief. It was last year that the Vanguard presented a four part series on Tahir Ahad who served as DJUSD’s CBO from 1999 to 2006.”
Mr. Ahad was the feature of a four-part Vanguard series in 2008 which exposed that during “his tenure at DJUSD he used district resources and district personnel to form his company Total School Solutions. As we discovered, Mr. Ahad took district personnel from DJUSD and hired them to work concurrently with his company. This enabled him capital and resources to help start up his company which has now greatly expanded its influence throughout the state.”
The Vanguard wrote, “Jeff Hudson who was aware of most of these problems, but chose not to report on it while Tahir Ahad was an employee, is working for Mr. Ahad on an educational newsletter–EdBrief.”
The Vanguard saw this as a conflict of interest by Mr. Hudson and a professional breach in protocol and etiquette. The Vanguard added, “Mr. Hudson never worked for Tahir Ahad while Mr. Ahad was an employee for DJUSD. However, there remains a number of areas of a direct conflict of interest, in addition to the various ethical problems of working for a former DJUSD administrator – who left under such a cloud of controversy – while working for the local newspaper.”
In my view, Mr. Hudson in the AIM case has made the decision to escalate the conflict rather than accurately report on the totality of the discussion. That is a grave disservice to this community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting