‘Getting Down to Facts’ revisited

The principal author and other contributors to the massive research project on California education known as Getting Down to Facts are marking the fifth anniversary of its release by examining its impact and discussing what still needs to be done.

Clearly, a lot.

“Our initial optimism was clearly unwarranted,” wrote Susanna Loeb, Stanford University professor of education and coordinator of the 23 studies, in the preface to a policy update published last week by Policy Analysis for California Education, or PACE. The researchers and foundations that funded the projects hoped that reams of information would lead to policies “to streamline governance and to simplify and rationalize school finance,” produce smarter use of data, and more effectively develop teachers and administrators.

None of that has happened to any degree; any momentum for acting on recommendations was sidetracked by an economic downturn that walloped school budgets and by the indifference of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who raised expectations by creating the Committee on Education Excellence and hyping the Year of Education, and then ignoring it all.

But in a conference that PACE held on Thursday in Sacramento, Loeb also offered a dose of optimism. “Even though we haven’t come very far, we may be at a particularly promising moment,” she said, with Gov. Jerry Brown proposing significant finance reform and a “positive indication in recent polls that suggest public support for meaningful reform.” An online poll by PACE and the USC Rossier School of Education found that two-thirds of Californians agreed that the state should provide more money to poorer school districts even if it resulted in decreased spending in wealthier districts. A majority (55 percent) still favored higher spending in low-income schools even if it meant less spending in their neighborhood schools.

For those favoring significant changes to the system, that’s heartening. Getting Down to Facts and the Governor’s Excellence Committee were explicit in saying that K-12 under-resourced schools needed reforms and more money. In early 2008, before the recession, the state was projecting Proposition 98 increases of $5 billion over several years. Instead, since then, K-12 spending has been cut more than that.

Wtih budget cuts, state approrpriations this year are about what they were in 2004. Source: Getting Down To Facts: Five Years Later (Click to enlarge.)
With budget cuts, state K-12 appropriations this year are about what they were in 2003-04. Source: Getting Down To Facts: Five Years Later (Click to enlarge.)

So groups in the Education Coalition are resisting finance reform, which would reallocate money to disadvantaged students, and are wary – as is Brown – of new programs, mandates, and expenditures. As Rick Simpson, deputy chief of staff and education adviser for Assembly Speaker John Perez, commented at the PACE conference with a note of aggravation, “Back in 2007, we were looking at a huge windfall. Now schools have been cut billions and billions of dollars, and the conversation is, ‘You’re not going to get that money back until you do all these reforms.’”

But the researchers of Getting Down to Facts continue to argue that the state cannot sit still and wait until money owed to schools is fully restored. As Heather Rose, an associate professor of education at UC Davis, wrote in the Getting Down to Facts update regarding finance reform, “Without a stronger finance system, reaching California’s academic goals will be an uphill battle. Pouring more money into the current system is akin to pouring a concrete foundation without putting the form boards in place. It consumes substantial resources, makes a mess, and doesn’t improve the stability of your house.”

Rose and others contributed sections in the 36-page update on governance, finance, personnel, and data. Here’s a summary of their findings:

Governance

Getting Down to Facts concluded that legislative dictates, a phone-book-thick education code, and conflicting lines of authority in Sacramento inhibited sound policy-making and frustrated local districts. “California has one of the most hierarchical rule-bound school institutions in the country,” Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley, told conferees.

Not much has changed, concluded Richard Welsh and Dominic Brewer of the University of Southern California. All-consuming concern over passing a state budget has “hijacked any real conversation about policy reform,” quoting an expert they interviewed. Manipulations of Proposition 98’s funding formula by the governor and Legislature have made it difficult for districts to predict revenues.

Brown did eliminate the Office of the Secretary of Education (actually moving it onto the shoulders of Sue Burr, executive director of the State Board of Education), but there remains overlapping and competing policy authority among the State Board, the Legislature, and an elected Superintendent of Public Instruction. There’s no talk of changing that.

The Legislature has backed into one of the reforms advocated in Getting Down to Facts: more local control over spending, though without giving locals more power to raise money. Districts have been given power to spend money on 40 categorical programs, worth $4 billion, as they wish. Most have used the money to backfill their basic budgets, raising questions about whether money previously earmarked for poor kids will end up being spent on them and whether worthwhile priorities – for teacher training, adult education, career and technical education – will be dismantled as a result of austerity.

Meanwhile, some districts have innovated on their own. Los Angeles Unified is experimenting with decentralized pilot schools; Twin Rivers Unified has turned over budgeting decisions to school sites, and the seven districts that came together for the state’s Race to the Top application have pursued a collaboration through the California Office to Reform Education.

Finance

Getting Down to Facts concluded that education funding is “overly complex, irrational, and fails to link resource allocations with student need or district costs.” Brown’s plan for weighted student funding addresses some of the criteria for a sound finance system: Funneling more money to disadvantaged students and eliminating most categorical funding would make education funding simpler, more transparent, and more equitable. But California would still lag behind most states in per-student spending, even if Brown’s proposed tax increase passes. And the administration, through the State Board, is just beginning to think about new ways of holding districts accountable for student achievement, beyond the current limited array of standardized tests, that would be needed once districts have flexibility to spend money as they choose.

Simpson expressed skepticism that Brown’s funding proposal could be made ready for passage by the end of June.

Teachers and Leaders

“At the state level, there have been no significant changes in teacher or leadership policies. If anything, things have gotten worse,” wrote Jennifer Imazeki, professor of economics at San Diego State. Districts have cut money for professional development, and layoffs have left staffs demoralized.

Getting Down to Facts found significant problems, among them:

  • Administrators with relatively poor training compared with other states;
  • Difficulties identifying and dismissing weak teachers;
  • Systemic flaws in teacher compensation and distribution, with little correlation between student achievement and a pay system that rewards teachers based on education and years of experience;
  • Reforms pertaining to the evaluation, inequitable assignment and retention of teachers that are inhibited by state policies.

Imazeki noted “pockets of progress,” with Los Angeles Unified, which is piloting new teacher evaluations based on multiple measures and San Francisco Unified, which passed a parcel tax to  fund more professional development, better evaluations, opportunities for master teachers and incentives for teaching in hard-to-staff schools. A reconstituted state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, to which Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond was appointed, is focusing more attention on teacher training programs.

There’s been some action in the Legislature. However, provisions under the current version of AB 5, the primary bill proposing changes to teacher evaluations, would take effect only once cost-of-living adjustments owed to schools are paid back – a process that will take years.

Another approach that Imazeki proposes is for the Legislature to do no harm and get out of the way. “At a minimum, state policy should focus on removing regulatory barriers to these local efforts and encourage further experimentation,” she wrote, noting that these policy changes would not require additional money.

Data

Both Getting Down to Facts and the Governor’s Committee said that the development of a statewide comprehensive data system was indispensable to guide long-term educational improvement. The state currently has no idea which programs work and why; it’s difficult for the public to hold the decision makers accountable for spending without this knowledge.

After fits, starts, and mishaps, the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) is running smoothly, collecting useful data on the performance of schools and students, along with accurate dropout information and graduation rates. But there is no agreement on where to go from there. Data advocates want to link CALPADS to higher education institutions down to preschools. And they want a teacher database, CALTIDES, which would link to CALPADS and include information on teacher salaries, certification programs and student results.

But Brown vetoed the acceptance of federal money for CALTIDES, and has questioned whether any more money should be spent on statewide data systems. The focus should be on locally generated and collected data that teachers, parents, principals and districts find useful, not on data for researchers and policy analysts.

David Plank, executive director of PACE, argues in the update that the state should build a state data warehouse that would compile and link data from pre-kindergarten through higher ed institutions and create tools useful to local educators to support continuous improvement. As it is now, the state imposes programs, like class-size reduction, without any way of measuring to see if they work; meanwhile, promising practices from local districts go unrecognized and measured.

“It is unarguable that for now,” Plank wrote, “that the persistent lack of useful educational data continues to handicap all efforts to improve the performance of California schools and students.”

Brown stretches switch to reform

In the first of what will likely be multiple revisions – Finance Reform 1.01 – the Brown administration has scaled back the first year of phasing in its new school funding system and proposes to hold districts harmless from potential losses in revenue in that initial year.

The administration also has significantly lowered the base revenue per student that all districts will receive before tacking on extra money for disadvantaged students. In a memo passed out this week, Department of Finance officials indicated that they’re open to modifying further the weighted student funding formula that Gov. Brown proposed in his state budget last month. They’ll no doubt hear some ideas today, when the Senate Budget Committee devotes the morning to weighted student funding and mandate reform, which Brown also wants.

Brown has proposed sweeping funding changes: a shift in decision making away from Sacramento by removing state controls on “categorical” programs while channeling more money to low-income students and English learners. Districts with high concentrations of these children stand to eventually gain more than $3,000 in additional funding per child – even more in some cases.

Supporters of equitable funding, advocates of a simple, transparent finance system, and districts with large numbers of disadvantaged children support Brown’s plan – at least in principle. Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Committee on Education Excellence backed the idea four years ago, and State Board President Michael Kirst co-authored a formula similar to Brown’s in 2008. There’s also general agreement that the right time to transition to a new system is on the way out of a recession, with increasing state revenue to minimize the impact on “losers” ­– those districts with few disadvantaged children or larger than average categorical funding that would get little additional, or even less money.

The mechanics of getting the formula right are difficult, however, and the policy issues are complex. (Should some categorical programs, such as adult ed or Career Technical Education, get protected funding?) Complicating Brown’s timing is his plan to use much of the money from a $6.8 billion tax increase to pay down debts that the state owes schools, so there will be little new money for the classroom in the first few years.

Brown had proposed to phase in the weighted student funding formula, starting in 2012-13 in 20 percent increments over 5 years to soften the impact (80 percent of a district’s funding would be done the old way in the first year, with 20 percent under a weighted formula, then 60-40 in the second  year, and so on).

But now he is proposing to start with only 5 percent of the weighted funding the first year, 15 percent the second year, then 40 percent, 60 percent, 80 percent, and all weighted student funding in 2017-18. No doubt worried that some districts might see less money at the same time that voters will be asked to approve a significant sales and income tax increase, Brown would guarantee to hold districts harmless, with no funding losses in 2012-13 only. Brown is also counting on a healthy increase in Proposition 98 money as the state recovers from an economic recession to mitigate the effect on the redistribution of money during the transition. The Department of Finance is projecting that the Prop 98 obligation will rise about $6 billion – $1,000 per child – over the next five years, aside from the temporary tax increase.

Bonus money in high poverty schools

The biggest change in the formula is the base level funding that every district would start with. Brown used $6,000 per child, which Kirst had used when creating his weighted student formula. But that was in 2008, before schools lost about 10 percent of their funding due to Prop 98 cuts. The new figure is $4,920.

I’ve explained the formula in a previous post, and it hasn’t changed yet. A district will receive a bonus of 37 percent of the base amount for every student who is low-income, as determined by who qualifies for free and reduced lunches, or an English learner (those who are both aren’t counted double). Because concentrations of disadvantaged students magnify educational challenges, a student body with more than 50 percent disadvantaged students would get additional aid, 7.4 percent for every 10 percentage points, starting with  7.4 percent at 60 percent, 14.8 percent extra at 70 percent, 22.2 percent at 80 percent, and so on.

The concentration bonus makes a big difference. A district with a combination of 50 percent English learners and low-income students would get an extra $1,820 per student, while a district with a combination of 100 percent disadvantaged students would get an extra $3,640 per student.

The memo from the Department of Finance said that the governor would be open to making “technical” changes to the formula. Some issues already have been raised.

  • High school students are more expensive to educate but the formula funds all students the same, to the disadvantage of unified and high school districts;
  • The concentration factor – whether it truly is half as expensive to educate an English learner in a district where they represent a small proportion of the student boy – will be debated.

Beyond the formula itself, there’s the issue of throwing all categoricals into one pot of money for redistribution, without protection. As former State Board of Education member Jim Aschwanden notes in a column in TOP-Ed today, adult ed has already been eviscerated in many districts under the categorical flexibility and would likely erode further under weighted student funding. Urban districts that receive substantial Economic Impact Aid as a result of desegregation agreements, like Los Angeles Unified and San Jose Unified, would lose that extra advantage under the new system. Which programs ultimately are protected will largely determine which districts will be winners and losers. Brown proposes to leave out only a handful of programs, starting with special education and student nutrition.

“Under the Administration’s proposed formula, most large urban school districts that serve low-income communities will receive additional funding. None of these schools will receive less funding,” the memo says.

Accountability is another issue. Districts would get extra money for poor and English-learning children, but, other than pressure from parents and advocates, they wouldn’t have to spend the money on those students. The Brown administration has said it would propose measurements beyond state test scores to hold districts accountable for academic results, but has given no indication yet what those are. Advocates want conditions set so that extra money follows the child through the system.

Reform/revenue plan for ’12 ballot

A  partnership of education, parent, and business groups is aiming to put on the November 2012 ballot an initiative combining sweeping education reforms with a tax increase dedicated to preschool to twelfth grade, called The 2012 Kids Education Plan.

In a short statement (see below), the dozen groups used the code words for fundamental changes in school funding and personnel laws like teacher tenure without yet citing specifics: “a student centered finance system, true transparency, significant workforce reforms, and new investments in education through a statewide broad based revenue source and lowering the voter threshold on local revenue” (a reference to the current two-thirds majority needed to pass a parcel tax).

Joint statement by the groups and individuals in The 2012 Kids Education Plan.
Joint statement by the groups and individuals in The 2012 Kids Education Plan.

Ted Lempert, president of Oakland-based Children Now, said the groups were considering a tax that would raise $6 billion to $8 billion annually for education – the equivalent of roughly an additional $1,000 to $1,330 per student – an amount that would recover much of the state funding that has been cut over the past three years. While a big ask in a recession, it would still fall shy of raising California’s per-student funding to the national average.

Those who have signed on to the effort so far include one member of the Education Coalition, the Association of California School Administrators; Children Now; Bay Area Council, a San Francisco-based business group; United Way of Greater Los Angeles; Education Trust-West; Public Advocates; San Francisco-based Silver Giving Foundation; the new parent groups   Educate Our State, Educacy and Parent Revolution; and three prominent superintendents: Mike Hanson of Fresno Unified, Chris Steinhauser of Long Beach Unified, and Tony Smith of Oakland Unified.

At this point, Lempert said, it’s still in the discussion phase. Over the past month, Lempert said, he and others have reached out to other groups that have signaled interest but have not committed, like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, California PTA, and the California Teachers Association (no official comment yet from the CTA). Also, “key folks in the Brown administration are interested in what we are pushing,” Lempert said. “I hope they get behind this.”

The presidential election ballot is expected to be jammed with initiatives, including pension and state governance reforms. Lots of ideas for tax increases –  reconfiguring Proposition 13, hitting up millionaires, taxing oil production to support higher education – are floating around, though still in flux. Lempert said that a broad-based tax that business groups could support, focused on pre-K to grade 12 education, would most appeal to voters and have the best chance of passing. With big backers behind it, a Kids Education Plan would dominate, if not chase off, other initiatives.

If $6 billion, tied to reforms, sounds familiar, that’s because Gov. Schwarzenegger’s bipartisan Committee on Education Excellence, led by Ted Mitchell, a Democrat, recommended the same amount and strategy four years ago. Schwarzenegger blew off the committee’s report, but the ideas – many stemming from the voluminous studies Getting Down to Facts in 2007 – and the approach have been simmering on back burners. “The concept is to do it all together, to put it in one package and get it done,” Lempert said. “You can get more money for education if it includes reform.”

The need to settle on the initiative’s wording and to start collecting signatures by January at the latest leaves only about two months to reach agreement on which reforms and which tax. Consensus will demand few hard-and-fast positions.

A student-centered finance system with transparency is shorthand for replacing the complex system of legacy-based funding, with dozens of categorical grants, with a system based on student needs, with more money for poor students and English learners.

The principle behind workplace reforms, Lempert said, is removing obstacles in state law preventing districts from exerting more control over hiring, including tenure, and promoting and dismissing staff. Three groups in the coalition – United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Public Advocates, and Education Trust-West – have pushed for more rigorous evaluation systems. Public Advocates also represents plaintiffs in the suit Campaign for Quality Education, charging that the state inadequately funds its schools.

Several key bills now before the Legislature would address some of the initiative’s key reforms: Assemblywoman Julia Brownley’s AB 18 on school financing and Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes’ AB 5 on teacher evaluations. But, reflecting both the compressed timing and uncertainty over whether the Legislature will pass strong bills, the coalition intends to write the reforms into the initiatives, leaving perhaps companion bills to the Legislature.

In an email, California State PTA Executive Director Paul Richman said that the PTA disagrees with this approach, while expecting to support one ballot measure funding education next year. “We believe new funding to restore programs that have been cut for students is foremost and that other potential reforms, many of which we’d get behind, can be accomplished legislatively,” he said.

Dennis Cima, vice president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, another likely ally of the effort, said that the organization agrees with many of the priorities  in the initiative and could support a broad-based tax, but will be watching to see what else is being proposed for next November. Noting that an initiative can be a blunt instrument, he said, “Is the ballot the best way?”

It may be if the intent is to ensure that reforms are passed, not watered down or frittered away by the Legislature.

Brownley to push for finance reform

As bleak as it looks for school funding this year, the stars may actually be aligning for school funding reform.

Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, is betting that this year the Legislature will pass a more equitable and simpler method for funding K-12 schools. And she and Gov. Jerry Brown agree, at least in principle, on what it would look like: a uniform per-student funding formula with extra dollars for low-income children and English learners.

Brownley is sponsoring an open-ended bill, AB 18; the first hearing on it will be March 23.

Current funding formulas are opaque and unfair. Funding varies by districts, based in part on funding levels set 30 years ago for reasons no longer defensible. Disparities are compounded by differences districts receive in categorical funding  – money allotted for specific programs. “Our current system is complicated, convoluted, and not designed toward meeting our goal of ending  the achievement gap,” Brownley told me last week.

A weighted student formula, created by blending together many categorical programs and then allocating extra dollars based on student needs, would be cleaner and clearer. Brown endorsed the idea as part of his campaign platform. But, of course, it’s the details that matter: Should regional costs of living be considered? Should low-income students be given 10 percent or 20 percent more? How do you ensure that the extra money is spent on those children?

It will be a few years before a new formula takes effect, even if there is agreement on it. Brownley and others agree that districts wouldn’t receive any less than they currently get now. New money will be needed in order for the formula to work.

Two years ago, Brownley, a Democrat from Santa Monica, thought she was making progress toward the goal, when the Legislature (with rare large bipartisan majorities) passed her bill, setting up a broadly based study group on finance reform. It would have based its work on conclusions of Getting Down To Facts, a series of Stanford-coordinated studies from 2007, and recommendations in 2008 of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Advisory Committee on Education Excellence, which endorsed the weighted student concept. But Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed Brownley’s bill and, in one of his more baffling veto messages, dismissed the study group as creating “the appearance of activity without actually translating to achievement.” This was odd, considering it was Schwarzenegger  who made it clear he didn’t want anything to do with financing reform that could cost the state more money.

So this year, Brownley is not resurrecting the idea of a working group and instead is cutting to the chase, with hopes that she’ll have a bill passed and signed by the end of the year. She said she planned to confer with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, who, with two others, created his own version  of a weighted student formula.

Paths to school finance reform

The state’s system of funding K-12 schools is inadequate, inequitable and opaque.

Only taxes, time (the next two decades of passively watching the economy improve) or a settlement of the Robles-Wong v California lawsuit can fully address the issue of insufficient school funding. But the Legislature can take steps now to make school funding fair and transparent, researchers for the Public Policy Institute of California conclude in two studies released on Tuesday.

“Pursuing structural reforms today will not only meet a critical need but will also help California be better prepared tomorrow, when it can afford to invest more in its K–12 system than it does now,” PPIC research associate Margaret Weston writes in At Issue: School Finance Reform

Outdated funding formulas set in the 1970s, combined with dozens of categorical programs that the Legislature earmarked for specific purposes, have created quirky, complicated district allocations that defy explanation, let alone justification. (As one example, the study cited $1,000 per student funding differences in base revenue allotments among three elementary districts in the same Southern California zip code.)

The studies recommend combining the categorical programs – a process that the Legislature has already begun – while simplifying and equalizing per student funding, with extra money for low-income students. Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Committee on Education Excellence recommended this weighted, per student funding approach, and Gov.-elect Jerry Brown has said he favors it, too. Stanford emeritus professor Michael Kirst, Brown’s chief education adviser, co-authored a study 2½ years ago that factored in regional costs of living, as well as poverty. So the timing is good to raise the issue again now.

The PPIC studies are agnostic as to the formula. Some alternatives give high schools extra money or schools with more expensive career and technical education programs. But the more factors, the more complicated the allocation becomes and the harder to explain to the public.

The studies assume that finance reform will not leave districts with less per student funding than they already receive. The good news is that student population in coming years is projected to grow slowly in relation to taxpayer income, resulting to higher per student funding under Proposition 98. The bad news is that it will take until 2030 to substantially increase K-12 spending, short of raising additional revenue, according projections in the second study, Pathways for School Finance in California. Settling  two school finance lawsuits, brought by statewide education groups and attorneys for poor families, could accelerate additional funding.

The PPIC studies recommend five principles for a framework for allocating new revenues and creating a more efficient school finance system:

  • Provide additional revenue to districts facing different resource needs – the weighted student formula;
  • Structure incentives properly: Don’t inadvertently reward districts that fail struggling students;
  • Allocate funds transparently so that  the allocations can be  easily understood;
  • Treat similar districts equitably;
  • Balance state and local authority: Give districts more control over revenues in exchange for a higher level of accountability.

The Pathways study, an expansion of the At Issue paper, was written by Weston, Jon Sonstelie, professor of economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Heather Rose, an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis.

Advice to Jerry Brown (continued)

Finish CALPADS; appoint accountability-savvy members to the state board; focus on assessments; listen more to teachers; reform the finance system.

That was yesterday’s advice (not to be confused with “so yesterday”) to Jerry Brown on this page from nine leaders in education. Today, an additional dozen voices in education, some  of them familiar to readers of this blog, offer advice to the governor-elect. At the end, summarizing their collective wisdom, I offer my own Grand Unified Theory for how Gov.-elect Brown can fix the mess we’re in.

Bill Lucia: Replicate success without state intrusion

Dozens of states and cities across the country, as well as countries across the globe with high student achievement, have leap-frogged over California’s once envied system of public education. Common to the culture of the most successful is a conscious rejection of making excuses for low achievement and a refusal to believe that poverty or a ZIP code is destiny. Charting a course of success will require the courage to admit Sacramento doesn’t have all the answers to micro-manage thousands of classrooms, coupled with a willingness to get out of the way of success.

Immediate opportunities exist to move forward:

  • Get the state’s data system back on track. Demand long-promised functionality, competent management and governance, and timely access of data.
  • Get California back in the driver’s seat on assessments. California is a non-governing member of an interstate collaboration on assessments tied to national standards; that makes no sense for the state with the largest school-age population.
  • Redefine the role of the Department of Education and set clear expectations for technical assistance. For decades, education bureaucrats were funded as program monitors; now, with the consolidation of categorical funding, they have no statutorily defined role.
  • Tackle inequitable funding down to the site level. School funding is not equal among sites within a district or among districts.
  • Begin to foster and replicate success now. Students don’t have a shelf life, and in this world economy neither does California.

Bill Lucia, former executive director of the State School Board, is CEO and president of the advocacy group EdVoice.

Margaret Gaston: Focus on equity, teacher pipeline

In his victory speech, Gov.-elect Jerry Brown spoke of the need to rebuild public education. Where to begin?  By restoring to greatness California’s teaching workforce.

Mr. Brown re-enters the governorship at a time when the expectations for teachers to increase students’ academic achievement have never been higher. Teachers are under tremendous scrutiny, and face myriad calls for increased accountability. The systems that prepare and support teachers as they take on these challenges have been badly damaged by the economic crisis.  There are fewer teachers teaching today, fewer individuals in the pipeline to become teachers than there were just five years ago, and more than one third of teachers are over 50, signaling that 100,000 of them will retire at a rate faster than the current system can replace them.

To deal with the current crisis in education we would advise Gov.-elect Brown to do three things:

  • Build a teacher development system capable of delivering an adequate number of effective teachers to classrooms where they are needed the most;
  • Strengthen the capacity of the workforce to deliver a full and balanced curriculum to every child in every school; and
  • Rebuild California’s public school system with a renewed commitment to equity, ensuring that those students who need them the most get the great teachers they deserve.

We stand ready to help.

Margaret Gaston is the President and Executive Director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. The Center’s forthcoming report on the teacher workforce will include specific recommendations for strengthening education for California’s public school students.

Kenyon Davis: Include students, parents in reform

In the last year and a half, I’ve been to Sacramento at least four times when I could have been in class preparing to graduate from high school. Why? Because too often when the “experts” meet to talk about how to fix California’s failing schools, they leave out the most important expert voices: students and parents themselves. (And in a state where a majority of students are black and brown, we need to listen especially to students and parents of color.)

We are in the schools everyday and we can point out what works and what doesn’t. We can even offer up new ideas. But we can’t be dragged back-and-forth from one solution to another and we can’t be told what to do. We need to be included.

This past election, students and parents from the Campaign for Quality Education created a voter questionnaire asking the candidates for governor a range of questions on key education issues such as equitable funding, teacher quality, and the dropout rate. Gov.-elect Brown and his staff not only answered our survey, they were receptive to our needs and stressed their commitment to education and education reform. It was a good start, and we hope the conversation continues.

Kenyon Davis, a freshman at El Camino College in Compton, is a board member with Californians for Justice, a statewide grassroots organization that works for racial and educational justice in low-income, immigrant, communities of color.

Jo A.S. Loss: Fight for quality ed for every child

Be a champion for every child and for the future.

Californians are desperate for leaders who consistently take actions that help all children reach their full potential. We need a guardian of the budget who considers the full impact of decisions on our most vulnerable, a governor who fights to ensure all children have access to high-quality teachers and a complete curriculum that enables them to develop all of their skills and talents, including creativity and critical thinking.

You cannot shy away from the big challenges such as fixing our state’s broken school finance system, and seriously addressing the school finance lawsuit brought by parents, educators and the California State PTA. We need a governor who promotes a carefully considered, holistic approach to improving the education, health and safety of all children. Lately, there has been a lot of rhetoric tearing down our public schools and our dedicated educators and parents. Instead, we need consistent actions and words from the top that build everyone up to meet the challenges of the 21st century. California’s more than 9 million children deserve a governor who places as first priority their education – and consequently their future and the future of our state.

Jo A.S. Loss is president of the California State PTA.

John Danner: Reward innovation in education

Gov.-elect Brown, you’re inheriting a heap o’ challenges, including high (and rising) unemployment, nearly bankrupt state coffers, spiraling mortgage foreclosures, and schools on the verge of fiscal collapse. Unlike your father, you don’t have the funds to stabilize and rebuild California’s public education system, so perhaps it’s tempting to hunker down and focus on other issues. But while you sort out these messes, please don’t forget our children. Don’t dismantle your father’s fine legacy in education.

Instead I urge you to act boldly: Focus on and reward innovation in education. This comes naturally to you, as you’ve always been willing to embrace change. Charter schools are the bright oases of hope in an otherwise dismal landscape. For example, at Rocketship’s K-5 elementary charter schools, we’re educating high-need, low-income students with stellar results (last year, our kids performed as well as their wealthy peers in Palo Alto), despite a dearth of outstanding teachers, and dwindling public funding. How is this possible? Through innovations in individualized instruction: We augment great classroom teaching with tutors and computers so that students achieve grade-level proficiency (and a whole lot more). This innovative approach is also financially sustainable – even with California’s miserable per-capita education spending.

So, embrace charter school innovations, and celebrate the innovators in your midst. They might just make a huge difference for the future of our state (and our country).

John Danner is co-founder and CEO of Rocketship Education.

Arun Ramanathan: Look, listen outside capital

Gov.-elect Brown: “Hope” is a cheap word in politics. Politicians peddle hope along with courage and conviction like used-car salesmen peddle the “power” and “comfort” of their cars. But unlike the customer of a used-car salesman, there’s no Lemon Law that allows you to return  politicians who don’t fulfill their promises by failing to show either courage or conviction as they take your hopes away.

After an expensive and negative campaign season, on behalf of California’s children, I respectfully ask that you set a new tone by doing something your predecessors rarely did outside the election season. Get out of the Sacramento echo chamber, say bye-bye to the friendly partisan audiences. Start your term by traveling the state and listening to Californians about their hopes and dreams for the future of our state.

Make it commonplace and second nature to leave the Capitol and listen to local voices. As you travel our state, make a special effort to hear the voices of the new majority demographic in our public schools and their parents. Visit their communities and listen to their dreams of a better future. Perhaps then, when you go back to Sacramento, you will hear their voices when it is time to make the courageous choices necessary to transform our education system and eliminate the achievement and opportunity gaps that leave so many dreams unfulfilled.

That would inspire real hope for our state.

Arun Ramanathan is executive director of The Education Trust-West, a statewide education advocacy organization.

Stephen Blum: Stop micromanaging districts

California was once the education leader of our nation.  This is no longer the case.

The next governor should understand that unintended consequences of the Serrano court decision and Proposition 13 shifted educational control from local school districts to Sacramento. The state government has been in charge of determining the funding amounts for local school districts since the late 1970s. The revenue amount needs to be predictable and ongoing. State budgets should be on time or on a two- or three-year cycle.

State government should stop trying to micromanage our 1,050 school districts and return much more local control. The state  should refrain from implementing simple solutions that sound good, stop seeking and believing there is one “silver bullet” that will “fix” education, and stop embracing the latest “fad of the week” education solution.

State government and the next governor should work with local school districts to create a multifaceted, long-term education plan that allows for the many individual needs of the diverse districts across our state. What works in Yreka may not work in San Diego.

Education reform should be less punitive and more productive. Education happens best when willing learners attend safe schools staffed by outstanding employees. Reforms should support, not blame, parents, teachers and administrators.

Good luck.  You will need it.

Stephen Blum is the president of the Ventura Unified Education Association and a member of the Ventura County Community College Board of Trustees.

Ted Lempert: Put children high on the agenda

Gov.-elect Brown must make children the priority of his administration. The budget will be his initial focus. Since California ranks among the top 20 states in revenue, Brown should aim to be at least top 20 in expenditures on education and other children’s services.

Children Now will provide the Governor-elect with the Children’s Agenda, 10 specific recommendations to, as Brown expressed in his victory speech, “keep [children] in the forefront of whatever we do.”

A top recommendation is a balanced P-12 education revenue and reform package, delivering a revamped, equitable, and adequate finance system, removing many state regulations and providing local flexibility coupled with strong accountability and transparency. Other recommendations include establishing a high-quality early learning and development system, articulated to K-12 through a kindergarten readiness assessment, expanded learning opportunities and school-based health and social services.

Immediate action is needed to ensure funding for the state’s student data systems. This is vital to the state’s ability to improve policymaking, instruction and learning and to ensure compliance with federal reporting requirements. Failure to do so jeopardizes federal funding, adds substantial risk to system development already underway, and leaves districts without the essential support they need to meet requirements.

Ted Lempert, a former Assembly member, is president of the advocacy group Children Now.

Marshall (Mike) Smith: Address structural deficit

Gov.-elect Brown must develop a budget for 2011 that addresses the substantial current and continuing structural deficits. This will require tax increases for all but the lower-income and serious cuts in the service sector, including education. It is the only way to regain the stability and predictability within the state that is necessary for long-term productive growth and reform.

To accomplish this he must convince both parties of the need to act in the common good. If he fails California is toast!

Marshall (Mike) Smith was senior counselor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and past director of education programs at the Hewlett Foundation.

Vincent Matthews: World-class schools need money

California’s public schools need to be fully funded to ensure every student receives a quality education. California has some of the highest academic standards in the United States and we educate more students than any other state in the nation, yet we are crippled with the one of the lowest per-pupil revenue allocations.

According to data published by Education Week, California now ranks 47th in the nation in per-pupil spending. The “luxury” of librarians and art and music programs have all but crossed the bridge of no return. The lack of academic counselors and our increasing class sizes continue to jeopardize our students’ college readiness. We are continually given mandates to implement, and can predictably count on less-than-adequate reimbursement for them. The budget California provides for education does not allow us to provide a world -class educational system for our students.

Vincent C. Matthews is superintendent of San Jose Unified School District.

Doug Lasken: Coax unions to be open to change

Gov.-elect Brown, it is imperative that you renegotiate the terms of California’s agreement, as part of our Race to the Top application, to abandon our existing standards in favor of national standards. The state has not yet won a Race to the Top grant, but even if it does, the estimated $700 million coming to us would not constitute an incentive.

Thousands of teachers will have to be retrained in instructional practices, and textbooks will need to be rewritten. Even if the grant could be applied to these costs, which it can’t, it would be a drop in the bucket. Your priority should be to renegotiate the deal in tandem with ongoing Race to the Top applications.

Secondly, you should use your influence with teachers unions to convince them to speak beyond their base. Teachers, naturally, do not want to lose tenure as part of arbitrary or punitive reforms, but the consistently negative pronouncements from union leadership promote only a circling of the wagons on both sides. As governor, you should encourage the unions to address the concerns about incompetent teachers in an open and constructive way. Suggest to the unions that they say,”Yes, tenure has been abused, and we want to reform it while keeping its legitimate uses.”

Doug Lasken is a retired Los Angeles Unified teacher, consultant and freelance writer.

As for me: Settle Robles-Wong v. California now

Few governors get an opportunity to make a historic difference in the education of generations of children.

Arnold Schwarzenegger  had a chance, perhaps, if he had run with recommendations of his respected Committee on Education Excellence, calling for more money for public schools coupled with governance and finance reform. Instead, he ignored the committee, leaving all children, especially low-income children, more vulnerable to bad decisions and tragic consequences when the Legislature cut education spending three years straight.

Schwarzenegger’s inaction led this year to two school financing suits. Robles-Wong et al. v. California was filed by major players in state education: PTA, the school boards and administrators associations, and attorneys representing minority students. Campaign for Quality Education v. California was filed by community and minority parent groups represented by Public Advocates. These lawsuits offer a new opportunity for Jerry Brown.

Very simply, Governor: Don’t fight the two suits; settle them. Strike a deal with legislators as well as litigants that brings more dollars to one of the nation’s truly underfunded school systems, coupled with changes to ensure that extra money will be used wisely and weighted to students who need it most.

Funding is needed to restore what has been lost – counselors, librarians, arts classes, after-school programs, smaller classes – as well as to expand fundamental programs like preschool. But money is also leverage for change – in how information is used, how teachers are compensated and equitably assigned, how student achievement is measured and rewarded.

Brown is the right person, at the right time, to use that leverage for a deal that would be fair, smart and salable to voters. – John Fensterwald

Listen to good advice, Jerry Brown

The current governor has not suffered for lack of good advice on education policy. There’s the 23-study Getting Down to Facts, assembled by an institute at Stanford at his encouragement, followed by extensive findings of his Committee on Education Excellence, which he appointed. But education policy never much interested Arnold Schwarzenegger or his key advisers. The governor shelved the Stanford studies and shunned his committee, after members put in a year of hard work. Schwarzenegger had his likes (charter schools and Race to the Top) and dislikes (teacher seniority and the Ed Code) but he had no coherent policy and overall strategy to improve schools.

But with a new governor comes new hope. Jerry Brown enjoys policy debate and the challenge of complex issues. To stimulate his thinking, I’ve asked some regulator contributors and others with respected views to advise him on setting his education priorities. There were so many good responses that I will run them over two days. Come back tomorrow for the views of Margaret Gaston, John Danner, Marshall “Mike” Smith and Ted Lempert, among others. I’ll be offering my two cents, too.

Charles Taylor Kerchner: Heed Thomas Paine

The phrase “lead, follow, or get out of the way” is attributed to perhaps the crotchetiest of our Revolutionary founders, Thomas Paine.  Gov. Brown could help education by doing a little of each.

Lead. No one but the governor can get our state’s education system out of its current financing mess. Forty-third place among the states is not where Californians want their schools to be; they need a revenue boost. But more importantly, the state has to quit delivering dollars late and tied with rules that keep schools from being effective.  The schools need Smart Money, to borrow from Jacob Adam’s new book. Universities, think tanks, and foundations have studied the issue more than enough. The governor needs to act.

Follow. It’s a shame that the Internet and multimedia capital of the world lags so badly in applying learning technologies, but we can learn from Florida and Kentucky about virtual education and from Scotland about how to build a secure intranet service for all students. Before resurrecting CALPADS from his predecessor’s veto, Gov. Brown should consider building a data system that is also a student and teacher learning portal rather than just an information archive.

Get out of the way. Several California school districts have made solid achievement gains while pioneering new ways of using data and organizing learning. Seven have entered into a formal compact, have secured private foundation support, and are actively networked together: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, Sanger, Clovis, and Sacramento. The governor needs to run interference with the state’s bureaucracy.

Charles Taylor Kerchner is an author and Research Professor in the School Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University.

Caprice Young: Be bold and act quickly

It wasn’t just symbolism when Gov.-elect Jerry Brown delivered his election-night victory speech at Oakland’s historic Fox Theater – the home for the Oakland School for the Arts – one of two public charter schools he created while mayor of Oakland. Instead, it highlighted Brown’s commitment to fixing our public school system as governor. He recognizes the difficulty involved in creating public schools that defy expectations for under-served students.  He knows the importance of creating public schools that prepare multitudes of low-income graduates to attend the UC system, as his two charter high schools have done now for a decade.

Governor-elect Brown understands the importance of innovation, creativity and high expectations in every classroom. He knows first-hand that increasing resources in our classrooms, freeing up local schools from Sacramento red tape and empowering teachers and holding them accountable for improved learning are key ingredients to fixing our public school system. His skills and experience in creating successful schools will matter when it comes to fixing Sacramento’s logjam.  My advice to him is simple: Be bold.  Act quickly. Don’t let another student down.

Caprice Young, the former Los Angeles Unified board president and founder of the California Charter Schools Association, is the interim CEO of ICEF Public Schools.

Peter Schrag: Finish CALPADS, take a broad view

The most important thing you can do is get good information, which means, first of all, taking the common “schools are failing” rhetoric with a large degree of skepticism; second, completing the implementation of the state’s long-overdue CALPADS data system; and, third, getting a knowledgeable and imaginative education secretary and staff, and, unlike the last governor, paying attention to them.

Something similar is true for your appointees to the state Board of Education, the people who are your education policy makers. They need to be backed against political pressure from the Legislature and the schoolhouse interest groups it often represents.

It means analyzing and following data on educational outcomes, not political fashion, to determine what works and what doesn’t, what programs to retain and which waste money and should be scrapped. That in itself will not be easy.

It means looking at the state’s overall education problems with a much broader and more hardheaded, less politicized perspective. We have major problems in education but many, perhaps most, don’t originate inside the schools. They begin in poverty and poor health, in a culture that largely disrespects learning and in a political system that devotes far more energy to lip service about education and its failures than it does to delivering the resources to improve it.

Finally, upgrading education requires a great deal of caution, patience, and an understanding of and sympathy for the human complexities in a system as large, diverse and complex as ours. It also requires lot of humility. Your Jesuit training should have prepared you well for all these challenges.

Peter Schrag is the former editorial page editor and columnist of the Sacramento Bee and the author of “Paradise Lost: California’s Experience, America’s Future.” His latest book is “Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America.”

David B. Cohen: Turn to teachers for good ideas

When I was in sixth grade, during your last gubernatorial term, I had a wonderful teacher who nurtured and challenged every student, and helped inspire my love of poetry and literature.  Twenty-eight years later, I’m a public school English teacher, and I recently met with my former teacher; sadly, she now talks about “waiting for the test scores” to determine if she was “successful” in the prior year.

What happened to teaching and learning, in the past decade in particular, should be a great concern to the governor of a state that has prided itself on innovation and creativity, from Silicon Valley to Hollywood.  As part of a network called Accomplished California Teachers, I communicate with teachers in many regions, and from every school level and subject area.  Our ability to do our best work is curtailed by a focus on testing, and a misguided notion of accountability pitting education stakeholders against each other.  There should be more common ground.

California has many excellent students, schools, and teachers, but the overall climate and morale in the state is deteriorating.  My advice: buck the trend on testing reliance and teacher bashing.  Look to teachers for education ideas that will work.

David B. Cohen is a National Board-certified teacher in Palo Alto, where he teaches high school English. He helps to direct Accomplished California Teachers and writes for the group’s blog, InterACT.

Rick Miller: Return power to local communities

Your last stint as governor marked the beginning of a long transfer of educational decision making from local communities to the State Capitol. Use your second stint to return it. You should focus your administration’s education agenda on the only three areas in which the state should be involved.

First, maintain a credible standards-based accountability system built on a new generation of assessments that reflect deeper learning and inform instructional improvement.

Second, fully fund and complete a comprehensive statewide longitudinal data system that helps teachers improve, provides student-level data from preschool through college and career, and helps share successes and strategies throughout the state.

Lastly, find a way to significantly increase California’s investment in our schools but allocate the money based on individual student needs, not the politically popular desires of adults. Then couple that increased funding with reform that allows local schools to drive innovation.

Our global economy demands that we educate every student with higher-order critical thinking, communications, and analytical skills. By focusing your administration on excelling in the state’s core competences and letting educators focus on theirs, you can actually be “the education governor.”

Rick Miller, a principal of Capitol Impact, a Sacramento-based education policy advisory firm, served as a Deputy State Superintendent for the California Department of Education.

Doug McRae: Appointments will be critical

It is critical Gov. Brown use his authority via appointees to the Office of Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education who will make statewide assessment and accountability issues a priority.

The current Secretary and State Board have not shown interest or expertise in overseeing statewide assessment and accountability issues, and thus the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the California Department of Education, which the state superintendent manages, have used their influence to weaken current statewide assessment and accountability systems in favor of instructional uses rather than measuring the results of instruction. Instructional tests do have their place within instructional systems, but uses for instruction cannot dominate accountability testing systems.

Driven by federal requirements, new California statewide assessment and accountability systems are to be developed over the next four years. Unless these systems are designed and defended as strong accountability systems, education reform efforts in California will be severely compromised by a Trojan Horse statewide assessment system unable to adequately serve its accountability purpose.

Doug McRae is a retired educational measurement specialist living in Monterey.

David Plank: Focus on assessments

Get assessment policy right.

California has recently adopted new standards for what children should know and be able to do at every grade level. To ensure that these new standards support improvement in the performance of schools and students, tie them to assessments that provide timely, accurate, and useful information for teachers and parents about whether and how students are progressing toward mastery.

Two national assessment consortia funded by the federal government will do some of the work, but most of it will have to be done in California. Key tasks include the development of a computer-adaptive system that can measure the knowledge and skill of English-language learners, and not just their fluency in English; the construction of instruments to assess students’ performance in middle-school mathematics (where California standards are very different from the Common Core); and the incorporation of complex performance tasks including extended writing into the assessment system at all levels.

The STAR system sunsets in 2013, and national assessments are scheduled to come on-line in 2014, so we have a brief opportunity to get this right right now. Seize the moment.

David Plank is executive director of PACE, Policy Analysis for California Education, based at Stanford, USC, and UC-Berkeley.

Anthony Cody: Use wisdom you’ve shown

I am very happy you have been elected once again as our governor. A little more than a year ago, you wrote to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan regarding Race to the Top. My advice to you is to stand by the wisdom those words reveal you possess regarding education. You wrote, in part:

Curriculum choices are not just technical and “evidence-based” issues, but go to the heart of deeply held beliefs and understandings of what children should learn.

Most current state wide tests rely too much on closed end multiple choice answers and do not contain enough written and open ended responses that require students to synthesize, analyze and solve multi-dimensional problems and construct their own answers.

There are huge technical and conceptual problems that remain on how to assess the specific impact of individual teachers and principals on the scores of students on annual state tests. Test score increases and decreases can be caused by many factors in a specific year, and it is beyond the current state of the art to sort out what is the unique and independent influence of teachers and principals. Performance pay schemes for teachers based primarily on annual test scores in other states reveal more about how not to structure performance pay rather than show what are viable ways to restructure teacher compensation. Compensation should to be just one element of a broader approach to improving teacher effectiveness that includes initial recruitment and preparation to retention and professional development.

I greatly appreciate the depth of knowledge this reveals, and look forward to your leadership in this arena, (Jerry Brown’s entire statement can be read here.)

Anthony Cody, a National Board certified teacher who taught science  for 18 years, is now a secondary science coach for the Oakland schools. His  blog, Living in Dialogue, is featured in Teacher Magazine.

Frank Pugh: Reform finance system

The education issues facing Gov. Jerry Brown are formidable: the reduction of nearly $18 billion in education funding over the past two years; the suspension of Proposition 98’s minimum funding guarantee; unfunded mandates that have saddled schools with responsibilities they lack the resources to address properly; and ongoing, sometimes misguided reform efforts coming out of Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

There is no single cure for these problems, but there are some key issues for Gov. Brown to address. Academic achievement is a priority for all school districts, but that performance is currently based on a standardized test-driven system of evaluating our students and schools. California needs more portfolio- and project-related assessment to truly evaluate academic achievement and – more importantly – to keep our students engaged. Our reform agenda needs to be drive by data and facts, not trial and error. And the most urgent reform needed is the reform of California’s education finance system. By working with the plaintiffs of Robles-Wong v. California, Gov. Brown has the opportunity to create a school finance system that provides all students an equal opportunity to meet the academic goals set by the state, and rid our schools of the current system that is unsound, unstable and insufficient.

Frank Pugh is president of the California School Boards Association.

Brown’s and Whitman’s platforms

Few voters, other than fighting-mad members of the CTA, will likely cast their ballots for governor based on Meg Whitman’s or Jerry Brown’s views on K-12 education.

Education has been mostly a campaign sideshow – even though districts are struggling amid crippling budget cuts. California ranks abysmally low in national tests, and the state serves larger numbers of high-needs students with very low per student funding.

From the eagle’s nest, there are some similarities in Republican Whitman’s and Democrat Brown’s positions: Both support charter schools – she unequivocally, he, with caveats; both favor shifting more money to K-12 education – she  from “welfare,” he from prisons. And both want to give districts more control over earmarked spending, the 62 specially designated programs known as categoricals.

But there are fundamental differences, in tone and in substance, between their plans.

Brown’s is nuanced and more comprehensive, reflecting who he is – a veteran politician who dealt with complex policy issues as governor, became scarred as a mayor who tried to insert himself into Oakland Unified, and gained some firsthand knowledge of how difficult school reform is as a founder and funder of two charter schools in Oakland. His conclusion: Reforming schools is hard work: “I approach this task with some humility, and a realization that there is no silver bullet that will fix everything.”

Whitman has boiled her platform down to a handful of ideas that would put her in conflict not only with the teachers union but probably with the rest of the education coalition of the school boards and administrators associations. She fashions herself as a school reformer from the outside, but her ideas aren’t presented in depth; they’re more like slogans: cut waste, adopt merit pay, give schools a letter grade from A-F.

EdSource, which juxtaposed the candidates’ positions on education, offers the best visual comparison. In four of the topics – school safety, instruction in the classroom, innovative schools, and assessments – the Whitman campaign had no position. In another area, how to better recruit, evaluate, and retain effective teachers, Whitman offers two proposals; Brown suggests nine.

Neither directly deals with the continuing K-12 funding crisis that’s expected to lead to another plunge in revenue for  districts and charter schools next year. Implying there is massive bureaucratic waste and inefficiency – an assertion I have previously questioned – Whitman calls for directing more money to classroom teachers.

Brown doesn’t call for more spending; but there are seeds of reform – and echoes of a recommendation of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Committee on Education Excellence. Brown calls for partially funding students based on need, with extra money for English learners and low-income children – an idea detailed two years ago by Stanford  education professor emeritus Michael Kirst, former state education secretary Alan Bersin, and Goodwin Liu, a law professor whom President Obama has nominated as a federal appeals judge. The money initially would come from combining categorical grants into one pot.

Whitman’s ideas

  • Giving every school a grade, A through F, and allowing parents in failing schools either to transfer out or, by majority vote, to convert to a charter school. This idea is taken from Florida, where it began under Gov. Jeb Bush. Until this year, the grades were based strictly on standardized test results. Soon they will include other factors, such as SAT scores and numbers of students who take college-level courses. This year, 74 percent of elementary schools and 78 percent of middle schools in Florida got A’s and B’s. Parents in California currently pay attention to a school’s API score, a ranking from 200 to 800, which has the advantage of showing growth or decline in points every year.
  • Allowing students in “failing” schools to leave or create a charter would simplify and  speed up two reforms that the California Legislature passed this year: a parent trigger provision allowing parents in 75 low-performing schools to demand their school boards to do a charter conversion, and open enrollment, allowing families in the lowest performing 1,000 schools to choose a school in another district, assuming that school opens its doors.
  • Promoting charter schools: Whitman would remove the state’s cap on charter schools. So far the ceiling has not been an issue in discouraging the creation of charters.
  • Expanding the teacher pool: Whitman would encourage alternative credentialing pathways for more second-career professionals to become math and science teachers. She would use merit pay – bonuses to high-achieving teachers and administrators – to attract “high-quality professionals” into teaching.

Brown’s ideas

Several proposals would advance ideas that have long been discussed.

  • Revising state tests: Brown recognizes flaws with the $100 million state testing system, like its reliance on limited multiple-choice questions. With the adoption by California of national Common Core standards, new assessments are coming anyway. How the two testing systems would mesh isn’t clear.
  • Broadening the curriculum: Concerned about the narrowing of the curriculum under No Child Left Behind, Brown would encourage initiatives to expand the teaching of history, science, and the humanities, without, he says, reducing attention to English and math.
  • Returning control to the locals: As with other candidates before him, Brown pledges to pare back the voluminous state Education Code and cede more authority over student achievement to local districts, making them responsible for outcomes but not micromanaging the process. This would be easier said than done.
  • Attracting good teachers and principals: Brown pledges to raise public and private money for a leadership academy to train good principals. He would pay mentor teachers more to work with new teachers. He would encourage high school districts to become alternative certification providers by offering apprenticeships combining university courses and classroom experience. And he would work with public universities to lure the students ranked in the top third of their class to teaching. How this could be done without financial incentives isn’t clear.

  • Expanding magnet schools and partnership academies: Brown would continue a priority of the Legislature and Gov. Schwarzenegger: career academies that prepare students for college and careers in high technology, health professions and other industries.
  • Dealing with bad behavior: Parents and teachers continually complain that schools seem unable to control handfuls of disruptive students. Brown said he would consider changing state laws or practices to control behaviors that disrupt the learning of others.

Whitman has cast herself as a reformer and, in unremitting TV ads,  characterized Brown as a toady of the teachers union. But the CTA is spending millions of dollars independently not out of  love for Brown but out of dislike of her. Brown’s ideas reflect a detailed knowledge of the problems, needs and dynamics of  California’s diverse public schools. There’s no indication that Whitman has that level of understanding.

Note: For two contrasting views of the candidates’ views on education,  read retired San Jose high school principal Jim Russell on why he supports Whitman and UC-Davis education professor Thomas Timar on why he favors Brown.

Reforms shift to districts

The creation of a foundation-funded non-profit organization led by seven superintendents is a further sign that the momentum for reform in California has shifted from Sacramento to school districts.

The seven superintendents, from Los Angeles, Long Beach, Sacramento, Fresno, San Francisco, Sanger, and Clovis unified districts, led the state’s second-round application for the federal Race to the Top competition. Although they failed to win any money, they agreed that their collaboration was worth continuing. Now, with $3 million from the San Francisco-based Silver Giving Foundation, the seven will be able to continue their work through CORE, the California Office to Reform Education.

Both Phil Halperin, the benefactor behind Silver Giving, and Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson expressed optimism that other large foundations would contribute to the districts’ efforts. That would be a coup, since over the past year national foundations, including Gates and, to an extent, Hewlett, have pulled back from underwriting large-scale state-based reform initiatives in California, after they led nowhere. Hewlett funded the Getting Down to Facts studies of school governance and finance and the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence, which Gov. Schwarzenegger promptly ignored. The Legislature has been consumed with budget deficits. Grassroots, district-led reforms represent a more promising strategy.

Silver Giving has created a second organization that will focus on district reforms: California Education Partners. One of the principals is Rick Miller, the former Deputy State Superintendent who organized the state’s first Race to the Top proposal.

As its name implies, CORE’s first project will be fleshing out the Common Core standards in math and reading, which California approved in August. The adoption of Common Core will require new textbooks, curriculum standards, teacher training, and assessments within the next four years, with no promise, other than end-of-the-year tests, the federal government will fund any of them.

Hanson said the seven districts initially will create formative assessments – diagnostics that help teachers with instruction ­–  in math and writing for elementary and middle school, which will then be made available statewide. Then the seven partners will continue the work outlined in their Race to the Top application. These include creating a new system of evaluations, based on student achievement; sharing data to guide policy decisions; and developing effective models to transform failing schools.

Only Fresno’s teachers union signed on to the Race to the Top application, but Hanson said that all of the districts will work closely with their unions moving forward.

“We have long recognized that the capacity at the state and federal levels is not there to fix what ails us,” Hanson said. “We have the capacity within our districts” to make change.

Low-income groups file school funding suit

Adding counterpoint to a growing chorus, four groups representing low-income parents and students filed suit in Superior Court on Monday, charging California’s inadequate and inequitable school funding violates for all children an equal opportunity to a “meaningful education.”

“The State of California is failing to keep its promise of an education to our children,” states the opening lines to a 52-page complaint, Campaign for Quality Education v. State of California and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The latest suit follows by two months the filing of similar litigation, Robles-Wong v. California, by the big powers in Sacramento: the California School Boards Assn., Association of California School Administrators, the state PTA and nine school districts. The new coalition also filed its suit in Alameda County Superior Court, in anticipation that the two suits will be combined and as an indication of mutual interests as well as distinct goals.

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