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The Winchester Mystery House on Arch Road

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POSTED September 13, 2013 1:10 a.m.

The Winchester Mystery House is much more apropos  to house California’s Department of Education rather than the nondescript box marring the Capitol Mall in Sacramento.

California’s education plan is much like the San Jose mansion built with the dollar of the rifle that won the West — both are the result of no clear design.

Like the Winchester House doors that lead to nowhere, rooms tacked on with no unifying rhyme or reason, and endless journeys down corridors that end up being a waste of time, California’s education strategy is a hodgepodge of politically correct spur-of-the-moment endeavors and mandates. There are programs that are as superfluous to the goal of educating young people just like there are doors in the Winchester House that don’t lead anywhere except to solid walls.

Both the state’s public school system and Winchester House have been crafted after years of twisted logic thinking the best way to protect against an under educated student as well as evil spirits is to divert them from a predictable progression or movement.

The end result in San Jose is an infamously contorted mansion that has become a tourist attraction. The admission to enjoy the handiwork is $40 per adult.

In Sacramento, the educrats and politicians have created a system where the annual cost per student is $8,482. Some, such as the Cato Institute, peg the cost for kindergarten through 12th grade education in California at almost twice that amount once all money spent in schools and the bureaucracy above the local level is taken into account.

So why aren’t schools doing better?

To understand why consider the Winchester Mystery House. It isn’t exactly the most efficient way to build a 24,000-square-foot mansion given that it has 10,000 windows, 47 fireplaces, 2,000 doors and 52 skylights. In terms of functionality there isn’t exactly a lot of bang for the buck. The Winchester House looks opulent but in terms of serving the expected goal that a house serves it fails miserably unless, of course, you want to ward off evil spirits more so than have a place to live.

One of many examples of how the Winchester Mystery House mentality has taken over California education can be found just north of Manteca on Arch Road at the San Joaquin County Office of Education

County offices of education were created to serve as support for local school districts and to offer services that districts can not or do not provide. Today the county office is effectively competing with local school districts through a repertoire of charter schools. On the surface, many seem to serve a niche not met such as in performing arts.

But then there is the Excel Sports & Health Science Academy.

During the Great Recession when tax dollars were scarce, the county office used public money to build a state-of-the-art sports complex.

Given the abundance of high school sports programs and the availability of private sector gyms one could argue that there was no need for such an investment. At the very least most school districts provide sports programs. And a bit of innovative thinking could have wedded a charter school to private sector gym facilities and have been more cost effective. In such a case, health science programs could have been tailored within existing  school districts where there was a need and not centralized. But there is education and there is empire building.

Preparing someone for a health science career tends to make sense. But is it as cost effective as, let’s say, expanding programs to prepare teens for heath careers in general that aren’t zeroed in on sports?

These are questions the county office has the luxury  of asking because they have the money— your money. It’s a luxury that local districts have not been given. Not only are they charged with educating the bulk of this state’s students but they also must do it with limited resources and with plenty of strings attached.

As such, it looks as if instead of supporting local districts the county office is competing with them.

Is this the most effective way to build an education system by splintering off niche groups while leaving others to fend for themselves?

Charter schools such as Great Valley and River Islands are a different animal as they operate within a school district as an alternative choice.

The charter schools at the county office complex clearly aren’t an alternative choice for many students who lack the means to travel to what is basically an education complex more than 10 miles away in the middle of an industrial park.

That is not to say the education offered isn’t good at county charter schools such as Excel Academy. The question is in terms of educating all of the students within San Joaquin County is it the most effective way to do so from a cost standpoint as well as overall end result?

Anyone can peel off the elite or those with drive and do well.

The problem is the county— in the case of charter schools  is helping skim of the cream and leaving school districts holding the bag.

You wouldn’t build a 24,000-square-foot home that looked like the Winchester Mystery House if your goal was to provide a roof over your head for the expressed purpose as living space. It may be opulent, eccentric and meet the needs of the few worried about the supernatural  but it isn’t practical.

The same can be said for the direction that the San Joaquin County Office of Education appears to be heading.

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