Governor cuts CALPADS money

Gov. Schwarzenegger has become increasingly critical of delays and persistent problems with the new statewide student data system that’s supposed to provide a wealth of vital information and policy guidance on student achievement.

Friday night he put his pen behind his words with a line-item veto, stripping $6.45 million for CALPADS (the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System) in the state Department of Education’s budget, while challenging the Legislature to transfer control of CALPADS from the Department to somewhere else in government.

“Enough is enough,” the governor said in a press release in which he partly blamed CALPADS’ poor performance on the state’s failure to win a Race to the Top grant and cited a lack of accountability in managing the system.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell immediately lashed back, calling Schwarzenegger’s line-item veto “shortsighted, ill-informed, and hypocritical,” claiming that the system is now working while chastising Schwarzenegger for vetoing a $5 per pupil expenditure to help local districts pay for training and uploading CALPADS.

Over the weekend, state superintendent candidate Larry Aceves indicated he’d make CALPADS an issue in his race to succeed O’Connell. “I don’t usually agree with the funding cuts that Governor Schwarzenegger has made to education, but I applaud his actions in vetoing CALPADS funding,” Aceves said.

The immediate impact of Schwarzenegger’s line-item veto will be to withhold further payments to IBM, which has yet to be paid for about half of its $13 million contract to set up CALPADS. On Friday, before Schwarzenegger acted, Keric Ashley, director of the Department of Education’s Data Management Division and the point person for CALPADS, told me that the Department had already decided not to pay IBM until the system was running right. The line-item veto will guarantee that doesn’t happen and turn the decision over to the Legislature.

Schwarzenegger has also made sure that Ashley and the Department don’t turn around and prematurely give IBM the contract for CALTIDES (the California Longitudinal Teacher Information Data Education System), the database with information about teachers that will be tied in to CALPADS. Schwarzenegger deleted $3.5 million in federal money budgeted for CALTIDES, again requiring an act of the Legislature to revive it.

There’s no denying that CALPADS has been a mess and remains behind schedule. O’Connell himself prevented a meltdown in February by postponing uploading of data while ordering a shakedown of the system. A scathing consultant’s report, which I wrote about here, criticized the performance of IBM’s team, the Department’s management, software defects, and premature release of untested updates. A May reexamination found improvements but unresolved management and oversight issues. Ashley said that the final report verified that the system was stable.

The question is how much of it is finally fixed. In his press release, O’Connell overstated the status of the system. “Despite some initial operational challenges, the system is working and important student-level information is being collected in California,” he wrote.

Only to a narrow extent is that true. CALPADS is a data collection system that  will enable the state to better calculate dropout and graduation rates and track students through the use of individual student identifier numbers: the courses they take, teachers they have, and grades they get.

Starting last year, districts were supposed to upload data in four batches. But the state put off requiring three of the four reports after big problems surfaced. (The districts still reported the data, but not through CALPADS.)

Last year’s Fall I report – enrollment data – is now due, and 90 percent of the districts have uploaded it. They’re now beginning to upload this year’s Fall I data. IBM and the state are just now beta testing the Fall II report, consisting of data on students’ courses. The date for districts to begin sending in data has been pushed back a month, to December. The spring and end-of-the-year reports, now a year behind schedule, remain question marks.

Problems erode districts’ confidence

Problems with CALPADS coincide with severe budget cuts. Many districts have laid off or reassigned data personnel in their central offices. And those who remain, already overloaded with work, were exasperated last year by CALPADS’ malfunctions, forcing repeated uploading of data on the districts’ dime.

CALPADS must regain credibility, because confidence among districts is very low, said Marc Liebman, who, as superintendent of Berryessa Union School District in San Jose, has been following the developments carefully. And, while a believer in CALPADS’ importance and potential, Liebman acknowledged that its usefulness to classroom teachers and even to districts has been oversold.

CALPADS wasn’t designed as a data warehouse, in which districts could get access to information. Researchers and the state will be mining the data and issuing findings, but it will be a one-way street. Even it CALPADS had been up and running perfectly, the state still would have lost points on its Race to the Top application because of functionality.

Schwarzenegger and O’Connell also disagreed on the cost, most of it covered by the federal government. Schwarzenegger cited $150 million, but that includes the costs of other data systems dating back to 1997. O’Connell cited $23 million. The governor’s May revised budget put the cost of CALPADS alone at $34 million.

Author: John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (www.TOPed.org), one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

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