Kirst: State Board critics off-base

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst says he and his new colleagues on the Board already have gotten a bad rap. According to Kirst, defenders of the seven Board members whom Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t reappoint have dismissed new members as opponents of education reform and ready to launch a “war on charter schools.” Both assumptions aren’t true, he says.

Critics, he said in an interview in Sacramento after his first Board meeting this week, are defining reform in terms of a “specific set of interventions.” (He doesn’t cite the parent-trigger law, but that’s obviously one.) Those, he said, don’t involve all of the state’s children. He wants to affect the 6.2 million K-12 students and 330,000 teachers. Kirst worked with Brown on the governor’s education platform. That document put teacher and principal training as a priority, along with taking a hard look at the state’s standardized tests.

Kirst indicated the Board would view policies in light of declining revenues for education. They might consider decentralizing regulatory  functions in Sacramento, shifting them to county offices, giving districts more autonomy, and streamlining layers of accountability.

As for charter schools, Kirst said, “I support  charter public schools; I have for years. I know other Board members have. The fact that we’re not (making) charter schools major and sole focus, as some people want us to be, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to see charters as a vital and innovative part of California’s education future.”

To view the full interview, go here.

Jerry Brown stops by to address Board

Brown, who started two charter schools in Oakland, has characterized himself as a “reformed reformer” – a term he used again Thursday when he stopped by the Board’s information session to speak to the seven new members he appointed.

“I am a little wary of reform sometimes,” Brown said in off-the-cuff comments that you can see here. “Everything that people propose they call it reform. Some change is good, and some change in not thought out. I don’t expect a silver bullet. I see a lot of fashion in education.”

Brown, who is asking voters to extend $8 billion in temporary taxes to avoid cutting K-12 budgets, said he learned a lesson starting and sustaining the Oakland Military Institute and the Oakland School for the Arts. “I really do get the idea that money is very important. I don’t know how we would get through if we (the charter schools) didn’t raise the millions of dollars that we do,” he said.

Brown has called for a hard look at whether accountability – too much attention to standardized tests and data – has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, with less attention to arts, social sciences, and his own priority, character formation.

He expressed ambivalence in his remarks to the Board. On the one hand, he says he keeps hammering the military charter school, with its 735 API, to reach the state target of 800. And he used standardized test results to question why teachers were giving A’s to students who were “below basic” on state tests.

At the same time, he said, teachers’ impacts on students are intangible and critical. Love of learning cannot be measured by just mastering a test. “The role of a teacher and the relationship with students is more than something that can be rationalized into various data streams.”

Data, standards and curriculum are all important, Brown said, but “I hope we can keep the humanistic aspect of education as well as the market concepts of readiness to go into the world of work and readiness to go onto higher education.”

These are words many teachers have been waiting to hear.

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" (, 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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