Brown names seven to State Board

Three decades after naming Michael Kirst and Bill Honig to the State Board of Education, Gov. Jerry Brown has turned to them again. Now, like Brown, in their early 70s, they will lead a new majority on the Board that he appointed Wednesday.

Brown moved with unusual speed in replacing five holdover State Board members, including President and fellow Democrat Ted Mitchell, and in appointing two others to replace two Board members whose terms expire Jan. 15. The appointments send a strong signal that Brown wants an experienced, less activist Board that will immediately focus on his priorities.

Five new Board members, all Democrats: Kirst; Honig, a controversial former three-term state Superintendent of Public Instruction; former Long Beach and San Diego Superintendent Carl Cohn; California Teachers Association lobbyist Patricia Ann Rucker; and James Ramos, the chairman for the San Manuel Band of Indians, ­are expected to be seated at next week’s Board meeting. Kirst, a Stanford education professor emeritus and Brown’s campaign adviser on education, is expected to become Board president. He held that post while serving for seven years, 1975-’82, under Brown’s earlier administration.

The appointments particularly of Rucker and Aida Molina, executive director on Academic Improvement and Accountability for Bakersfield City School District, should please the CTA and the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), traditional education organizations that had criticized the lack of practical knowledge and classroom experience of the charter-school-friendly Board members whom Gov. Schwarzenegger had appointed, and had opposed the reforms that they initiated.

Sure enough, Ben Austin, the number one target for ouster by the Ed Coalition, did not go silently. “Unfortunately, in the Governor’s first full day in office, he chose to stand with the state’s most powerful interest group that spent millions to elect him, rather than the parents and children of California,” he said, referring to the state’s two teachers unions, in a statement Wednesday.

Austin is executive director of Parent Revolution, a nonprofit group that has been pushing the “parent trigger,” a mechanism adopted by the Legislature last year that permits a majority of parents at a school to demand a takeover by a charter school or other dramatic reforms. Knowing that Brown could replace most of them, the Board had hurried the parent trigger regulations along. I wouldn’t be surprised if the new Board takes a longer look and puts off their adoption next week.

Strong, independent voices

The appointments of Rucker and Ramos, a community college trustee but the only appointee without a strong background in education, smack of campaign payoffs to groups that had helped Brown get elected. It‘s also true, however, that before Schwarzenegger, CTA and ACSA traditionally had representatives on the 11-member Board.

But in Honig, Kirst, Cohn, and Trish Williams, the seventh appointee, Brown has turned to independent-minded experts with impressive resumes. “It’s a strong board,” said Bill Lucia, CEO of the pro-charter school and education reform nonprofit EdVoice. “Brown has dug deep and wide to find talent pool with professional experience he believes is a good mix to get his priorities done.”

Williams has been executive director since 1992 of the nonprofit organization EdSource, which is respected for credible, thorough research. A professor emeritus in education and business administration, Kirst is respected for his research and his focus on practical public policy. Lately he has been concentrating on ways to better connect high school courses with college expectations. That’s a complex subject the State Board will become immersed as it approves new textbooks and assessments related to the newly adopted Common Core standards.

Cohn is credited with transforming Long Beach Unified into a model urban district as superintendent from 1992-2002. He ran into difficulties in embattled San Diego Unified, as superintendent for three years after the departure of Alan Bersin. For the past two years, he has been a co-director of the Urban Leadership Program at Claremont Graduate University.

The most powerful and arguably knowledgeable figure in California education in the ’80s, Honig has been out of the public eye for nearly two decades. A law school buddy of Brown from San Francisco, Honig served on the State Board before being elected State Superintendent in 1982. He led the movement for standards-based education before the report Nation at Risk drew national attention to it, and pushed hard for more money and the eventual passage of Prop 98 at a time that Gov. Deukmejian was cutting school funding, earning him the ire of Republicans. But he was forced to resign in 1993 after his conviction on four counts of participating in state contracts in which he had a financial interest. An appeals court later reduced the felonies to misdemeanors and cut the restitution payments by 80 percent.

Honig also will have expertise in the content and standards areas that the State Board will oversee in the next few years.  Asked about his appointment on Wednesday, Brown told Los Angeles Times reporter Shane Goldmacher, “Honig has the knowledge and skill to be quite valuable, and it would be a shame to waste that. … I don’t think people discriminate against people who perform well for the state and people who run into problems and make amends. That’s the way it should be considered.”

Honig would serve on a State Board that has more power than when he served on it. That’s because, he lost a suit brought against him while Superintendent clarifying that, under the state Constitution, the Board, not the Superintendent, is responsible for setting education policy.

Board members serve four-year terms, although unconfirmed nominees can serve for as long as a year – the status of five of the past board members. Confirmation requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, which could prove a challenge for Rucker, who can expect Republican opposition, and, unfortunately, perhaps for Honig. The four Board members appointed by Schwarzenegger whose terms don’t expire are Gregory Jones, a retired executive of State Farm Insurance; James Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association; Yvonne Chan, founder and principal of  Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, a charter school in Los Angeles; and Connor Cushman, a student member from Coto de Caza.

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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