Brown’s mystifying CALTIDES veto

Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of $2.1 million for the development a statewide database on teachers – CALTIDES – apparently ticked off U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, pleased the California Teachers Assn., and puzzled just about everyone else in education, who are left wondering, “Just what does Jerry want?”

Did he worry about the possibility of another state computer fiasco, as CALPADS, the statewide student database, was in its development? Or does he think that the emphasis on data in general is a waste of time? Is he OK with collecting data on teachers, student test results included, on a local level but not at a state level, where researchers and the Legislature can meddle with the data? Did he think that federal education officials would let him use the $2 million he vetoed and $4 million more in a federal grant for CALTIDES for another purpose? (The feds said no and are demanding full repayment.)

Soon, Brown will have to give an inkling of his thinking. The seven school districts that nearly snagged a federal second-round Race to the Top grant on behalf of California are anxious to pursue the next round. The competition will be limited to nine second-round semifinalists, so the districts, operating under the umbrella organization California Office to Reform Education, or CORE would appear to have the inside track to grab $50 million of the $200 million Duncan has set aside. With few dollars anywhere for doing anything innovative, the CORE districts covet the federal dollars to help continue their work implementing the Common Core standards and creating new ways to recruit, train, and evaluate teachers and administrators.

The rules for the next round are expected out in the next several weeks, but two requirements are likely: Brown, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst will all have to sign off on the CORE application, and the feds will require some use of standardized test data for evaluations.

Impact on Race to the Top

The state’s retreat from CALTIDES by itself may not prevent the districts from moving forward on their own, but it could complicate CORE’s effort.

A teacher database, assigning teachers anonymous identifiers, could be quite useful for analyzing which teacher credentialing programs are effective, where teachers are being assigned outside of their specialties, and which teachers are showing good and bad results, based on training, curricula, and other factors.

But teachers already have been assigned unique identifiers, and it would be possible to expand CALPADS to incorporate many functions of CALTIDES, including linking teachers to student test data, according to Keric Ashley, director of the state Department of Education’s data management division. “Teachers and students have ID numbers. We know which courses teachers are teaching. We can connect teachers to student achievement data, though we are not doing that now. That is a policy question.” **

On this question, CTA has an answer: no. I’ve been hearing from several sources that CTA has been lobbying Torlakson, if not Brown, not to let CORE’s Race to the Top application move forward. CTA President Dean Vogel denied this in an email to me, calling my claim “bad information,” but I remain confident in what I’m hearing.

The seven CORE districts – Sanger, Los Angeles, Fresno, San Francisco, Clovis, Fresno, and Long Beach, all influential unified districts encompassing 1 million children – want to use teachers’ standardized test results primarily to help improve instruction. But CTA nonetheless would see that as the foot in the door for tying teachers statewide to test results.And United Teachers Los Angeles is fighting the district’s pilot test of an evaluation system in which standardized tests could count 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. (The final evaluation system has to be negotiated.)

Brown is counting on CTA’s deep pockets next November to put a revenue initiative on the ballot. CORE districts are worried that election politics may trump clear benefits of the $50 million grant and the principle of local control.

In his veto message, Brown said he was cutting the money for CALTIDES to save “the development of a costly technology program that is not critical.” Brown also wants a commission to answer the bigger questions about student and teacher data, including concerns over privacy: What’s necessary to collect and for whom is the data important?

Brown has yet to appoint members of the commission.

** Ashley and other state officials are disputing an Education Week story that indicated that Brown’s veto of CALTIDES jeopardized the state’s commitment in accepting $6 billion in federal stimulus dollars and that the state may be asked to repay all of the money. Ashley said that the state complied with the requirement to assign unique identifiers to teachers, with the capability of linking student test data to teachers. At this point, he said, the federal government is not requiring the actual linkage, just the ability to do it. Duncan has said that future grants and the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind would require using the data.

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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