Brown vetoes API alternative

Calling it “yet another siren song of school reform,” Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have expanded the state’s accountability system to include measures other than standardized tests.

SB 547, the top education priority of Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, was one of 15 education-related bills that Brown killed on Saturday, the day before the deadline for acting on legislation before him. Among the others: SB 185, a direct challenge of Proposition 209’s ban on considering race and ethnicity in admitting students to CSU and UC; and AB 203, modifying the Parent Trigger law.

In a sharp, two-page veto message of SB 547, Brown mocked “academic ‘experts,’ ” backed by “editorialists and academics alike,” who have “subjugated California to unceasing pedagogical change and experimentation.” He singled out the “current fashion” of collecting “endless quantitative data … to distinguish the educational ‘good’ from the educational ‘bad.’ ” Instead, Brown indicated that he favors a “focus on quality” instead of quantity – with measures such as “good character or love of learning,” as well as “excitement and creativity.”

As to how to do this: “What about a system that relies on locally convened panels to visit schools, observe teachers, interview students and examine student work? Such a system wouldn’t produce an API number, but it could improve the quality of our schools.”

Steinberg and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a sponsor, had rounded up widespread and diverse support for SB 547 from business groups, some advocates for low-income children, the career technical education (CTE) community, and much of the education establishment – the PTA, school boards, and administrators associations. (The California Teachers Association, which will cheer Brown’s anti-testing rhetoric, took no position on the bill.) Even an organization representing gifted students signed on.

Replace with Education Quality Index

Some supporters, Steinberg included, fundamentally disagree with Brown over the use of data to measure student and school performance. Others acknowledge that standards-based reforms and standardized tests, as demanded by the Legislature and the federal government, are here to stay. All agree that the current system, basing a school’s Academic Performance Index mostly on annual math and English language arts tests, narrowed the curriculum in many schools and created perverse incentives to focus on testing.

SB 547 would have replaced API with an EQI, an Education Quality Index, that would have added more indices, particularly in high school. Measurements could have included dropout rates, the need for remediation in college, success with career technical education programs, and graduation rates. Standardized tests would have counted no more than 40 percent in high school, no less than 40 percent in K-8, as determined by the state Department of Education and the State Board of Education. Backers of the current system questioned whether the EPI would be too squishy. Brown took the opposite view ­– that it would have demanded more of the same, hard data.

In his veto message, he also criticized the timing, taking effect at the same time that the state was switching to Common Core standards in math and English language arts, with their own set of demands. The combination would “add significant costs and confusion,” Brown wrote.

But Steinberg disagrees, noting that the transition to the Common Core standards, with a focus on college and career readiness, is the right time to change the accountability system to reflect that priority.

“It’s a fine idea that the governor wants qualitative pieces, but that does not change the fact that our high schools are not focused on the economy and what we expect young people to do when they graduate from high school,” Steinberg said in an interview.

“I disagree with his view on data, which can show what works and what doesn’t; that is what taxpayers want with their money. What we are doing (with SB 547) is not negating quality measures, just trying to improve quantitative measures.”

Steinberg said he would meet with Brown soon to create a bill in 2012 that fixes “a flawed system that has negative consequences for children and schools.”

(Readers: Is Brown a visionary or a policy Luddite? What do you think?)

More applied learning meeting A-G

Brown did sign two other bills that Steinberg sponsored to encourage more hands-on learning in high school. SB 611 will encode in statute the new UC Curriculum Integration Institute, which brings together CTE and core academic teachers, along with UC professors, to design innovative courses, blending applied learning, that satisfy A-G course requirements for admission to UC and CSU. The Institute has created a half-dozen so far with limited funding; with SB 611 in hand, Steinberg says he will approach foundations to underwrite the effort for hundreds of additional courses.

SB 612 complements SB 611 by reauthorizing the California Subject Matter Projects, which provide teacher training and development for courses created by the Institute and related courses.

Other vetoes

SB 185: In his veto message, Brown said that he actually agreed with the intent of the bill, which would have allowed CSU and UC to consider race, gender and  ethnicity  when considering undergraduate and graduate admissions, and that he wrote briefs backing the position when he was attorney general.

But the courts, not the Legislature, must determine the limits of Prop 209. Passing the bill, sponsored by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), “will just encourage the 209 advocates to file more costly and confusing lawsuits.”

AB 203: The veto of a bill dealing with the “Parent Trigger” law was a surprise, since the sponsor, Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, had gone to great lengths to get Parent Revolution, the chief proponents of the law, and skeptics to agree to the language. It clarified pieces of the parent empowerment law, which the Legislature passed in a hurry in late 2009. The law permits a majority of parents at a low-performing school to petition for a wholesale change, such as a conversion to or takeover by a charter school.

But Brown said that the State Board has spent a full year writing regulations covering the petition process and these should be allowed to work before changing the law.

In a statement expressing her disappointment, Brownley said the bill “could have reduced potential litigation over the law’s ambiguities” by clarifying aspects of the signature process. Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, credited Brownley for collaborating and listening to parents with his group, then added, “But I do think the Governor’s veto sends a strong signal that it’s time to stop tinkering and start implementing the Parent Trigger.”

Baker’s dozen bills before Brown

(Kathy and John combined efforts on this post.)

It all comes down to one person. Dozens of education bills passed in the final days of the legislative session are now in Gov. Brown’s hands. He has until October 9th to sign or veto. Here are highlights of some of the most controversial and comprehensive measures.

SB 611 (Darrell Steinberg, D- Sacramento): The University of California has approved thousands of Career Technical Education courses as qualifying for admission to UC and CSU campuses under the A-G requirements. But nearly all of them have been approved only as electives, not as core subjects. This bill would authorize a new UC institute to work directly with high school teachers to develop dozens of CTE courses that would qualify as math, English, and science courses for UC and CSU admission – a big shift in UC’s approach to CTE and potentially a boost for partnership academies and programs that stress career and college readiness.

SB 547 (Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento):  This bill would replace California’s long-standing school rating system, known as the Academic Performance Index, or API, with an Education Quality Index, or EQI. It would also fulfill the original intent of California’s Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999 by requiring the State Department of Education, in consultation with an advisory committee, to develop multiple measures for the EQI rating that include graduation rates, a college preparedness index, and a career readiness index in addition to the STAR test and High School Exit Exam. A similar bill, AB 400, passed the Legislature in 2007, but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

AB 1330 (Warren Furutani, D-Long Beach): High school students would be able to substitute a year-long career technical course (CTE) for either a year of foreign language or of visual/performing arts as one of 13 courses needed to graduate from high school. Supporters of the bill say it would give students at risk of dropping out an engaging alternative to keep them interested in school. Opponents, who include those who want to qualify more students for four-year colleges, worry districts will cut back courses in arts and foreign languages, making it harder for students to qualify for CSU and UC campuses. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year.

AB 47 (Jared Huffman, D-Marin): Under the 2-year-old Open Enrollment Act, students in the state’s 1,000 lowest-performing schools are theoretically eligible to attend better schools outside of their own district (it’s too soon to see how often it’s been used). This bill would tighten eligibility rules to weed out schools that, because of quirks in the law, are not among the lowest-performing 10 percent. It would  exclude schools with over 700 API, among the new requirements. Open Enrollment was passed to strengthen the state’s Race to the Top application. Republican senators strongly opposed loosening the law.

SB 300 (Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley): California’s science standards haven’t been touched since their adoption 13 years ago. This bill, written by the California Science Teachers Association, would establish a process to revise them by 2013. Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson would appoint a committee of science educators that would do the work under a tight timeline; the State Board of Education would have to approve the new standards. The standards would be based on Next Generation Science Standards, a multistate effort that would become the science version of the Common Core standards. Traditionalists who created the current standards are skeptical.

AB 131 (Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles): Undocumented students who meet certain requirements have been allowed to pay in-state tuition at California’s public colleges and universities since 2002. But efforts to provide them with public financial aid have failed for years. That began to change this year when Gov. Brown signed AB 130, the first of two bills by Assemblyman Cedillo collectively known as the California Dream Act. While AB 130 allows undocumented students who meet the in-state tuition requirements to apply for private financial aid offered through state colleges and universities, AB 131 is a harder sell. It would open CalGrants to these students. Opponents say that in a time of steep budget cuts it’s unfair to legal residents to give money to undocumented students, and they warn that it could create an incentive for more people to come here illegally.

AB 743 (Marty Block, D-Lemon Grove): Nowhere is the disjuncture between high school and college expectations more pronounced than in the state’s 112 community colleges. Between 70 and 85 percent of students who take a community college placement exam aren’t ready for college-level math or English. But there’s no consistency in the tests, because there are nearly as many different exams as there are community colleges. AB 743 would establish uniform placement exams in math and English.  They wouldn’t be mandatory, but colleges that continued to use their own placement tests would miss out of big savings from the volume discount.

SB 161 (Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar): Children who suffer severe epileptic seizures risk brain damage or even death unless they receive emergency medical care within five minutes. SB 161 would allow school staff to voluntarily take a course to learn how to administer Diastat, a an emergency anti-seizure medication, with parents’ written consent. State law already allows teachers and staff to administer other emergency medications, but Diastat is different because it’s given rectally. Although the bill has strong bipartisan support, it’s been targeted by major labor unions, including both teachers unions and the nurses association, which tried to use it as leverage to reverse the loss of school nurses in recent years due to budget cuts.

Foster youth

AB 194 (Jim Beall, D-San Jose): Assemblyman Beall has been a strong proponent of legislation to help foster youth complete their education. AB 194 requires the 112 community college campuses and California State University campuses to grant priority enrollment to current and former foster youth up through age 24, and urges the University of California to do the same. Supporters hope the bill will help keep foster youth in college by making it easier for them to get the classes they need to graduate, especially as budget cuts have forced public colleges to reduce the number of course sections they offer. Currently, about 20 percent of foster youth enroll in college, and barely 3 percent graduate. The bill would sunset July 1, 2017.

AB 709 (Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica): It’s not uncommon for foster children to be moved to different schools many times during their youth.  This bill would add a section to the state’s Health and Safety Code, bringing it into conformity with provisions of the Education Code requiring schools to immediately enroll foster youth even if they can’t provide the school with all their medical records, including proof of immunizations. This bill has no opposition and passed the Senate and Assembly without any no votes.

Common Core

Three bills before the governor would combine to place California on a timeline to prepare for the implementation of Common Core standards and assessments.

AB 250 (Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica): The State Board of Education approved Common Core standards in math and English language arts a year ago. The state belongs to a multistate consortium that is developing the Common Core standardized tests that will be aligned to the new standards. This bill would start the process of filling in the gaps. It would require the State Board to adopt new curriculum frameworks, which flesh out standards into a detailed road map, by May 2013 for math and a year later for English language arts. It would require the state Department of Education to work with the State Board on developing training for teachers in Common Core subjects. It also would extend STAR, the current standardized tests, until the replacements are introduced in 2015.

SB 140 (Alan Lowenthal, D- Long Beach): California has postponed any new textbook adoptions until after Common Core standards are in place. But with those new standards come the new student achievement tests. In order to make sure that students are prepared for those Common Core assessments, this bill would require the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education to develop criteria for evaluating supplemental instructional materials that include Common Core content standards, and then to compile a list of those materials for kindergarten to eighth grade for English language arts and kindergarten to seventh grade for math. (Eighth grade math isn’t included because of a disagreement about whether the state’s math standard should include Algebra 1 in that grade.) Schools wouldn’t be required to choose from the list, or to use any supplemental materials. SB 140 has no organized opposition; however, votes in the Assembly and Senate were almost entirely along party lines.

AB 124 (Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar): Fuentes’ bill ensures that the Common Core standards extend to English learners. It would require the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to convene a group of experts in English language instruction to revise and align the curriculum, materials, and assessments for Common Core so they’re appropriate for English learners.

New UC role: Grow career tech

Instead of just weeding out career technical courses, Sen. Darrell Steinberg wants  University of California educators to plant some career tech seeds and cultivate them.

That’s not something that the UC system, with a lingering bias against applied learning, had been comfortable with. But within four or five years – if  Steinberg’s goal is reached – UC will have helped create dozens, perhaps hundreds, of courses with career applications, elevating the substance and status of career tech as well as  injecting real-world content into classes that most California students take.

Steinberg, the Senate president pro tem, is the author of SB 611, which would write into law the mission of a new UC institute charged with overseeing the design of career tech courses satisfying the entrance requirements to UC and the California State University system. It’s in a package of three Steinberg bills that would significantly reshape K-12 education. SB 612 reauthorizing collaborative projects between UC educators and K-12 teachers, is partly a companion to SB 611 and would provide teacher training for the new courses that the Institute would establish. SB 547, which TOP-Ed contributor Fred Jones wrote about this week, would add new performance measures to the Academic Performance Index (API), while sharply deemphasizing standardized test scores in a handful of subjects.

All three bills were heard Wednesday before the Senate Education Committee, and Steinberg gave a speech about them later that day to the Sacramento Press Club.

“The package begins to change what gets taught by partnering with the UC to make applied career-focused curriculum the norm, not the exception,” Steinberg said in his speech.

A committee of the UC Academic Senate known as BOARS screens high school courses to decide if they can qualify for one of the 15 course requirements for UC and CSU known as A-G. According to Don Daves-Rougeaux, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Articulation and Eligibility of the University of California, the committee has approved nearly 10,000 CTE courses – over 40 percent of all CTE courses offered – based on a review of the syllabi.

But nearly all of these have been approved only to count toward the arts, lab science, and electives requirements of A-G. Only eight were sanctioned as satisfying the math, history, or English language arts requirements. It was this imbalance that Steinberg wanted to address when he pressed UC President Mark Yudof to create the University of California Curriculum Integration Institute.

The Institute identified career pathways, like bioengineering, and invites CTE and pure academic teachers to come together in four-day conferences to design a course that combines hands-on learning and core academic material.

So far, Institute panels have created only four courses qualifying for A-G, but, significantly, three meet the math requirement – Business Math, Business Statistics, and Da Vinci Algebra I, combining arts and math – and the fourth, Applied Medical English, satisfies the English requirement. The next conferences will develop math and lab science courses for three career pathway programs: engineering design, finance and business, and hospitality and tourism, Daves-Rougeaux said.

The CSU might have been a more natural fit for the Institute, since it trains most teachers in California and is not a research-focused system.  Steinberg approached Yudof because UC is the gatekeeper of A-G. But some CTE advocates are skeptical whether UC professors can understand the value of applied education. It’s like asking an English professor to design a course in Farsi, a different language entirely.

Sen. Alan Lowenthal, a retired community psychology professor at CSU-Long Beach, got to the heart of that issue in questioning Steinberg and Daves-Rougeaux. He surmised that the reaction of many at UC would be that incorporating applied learning would lower academic standards of UC admissions. “Is everyone embracing this?” he asked.

Daves-Rougeaux said that UC has already made the shift in approving thousands of career tech courses and that leaders of BOARS have participated in developing courses at the institute.

Steinberg acknowledged the Institute reflects “a big shift in culture” for UC, “no doubt about it.” CTE must not be a “niche” program; instead, hands-on, practical learning must become standard in schools, so that students see the relevance of what they are learning.

Representatives of business and a number of education groups testified in favor of all three of Steinberg’s bills. No one testified against them. SB 611 passed the Education Committee 7-3 with three Republicans voting against.