Brown saves ed bills for last

Kathryn Baron contributed to this article. See additional coverage today in TOPed.

Signatures and vetoes went flying out of the State Capitol over the weekend as Gov. Brown raced to meet the October 9 deadline to take action on all the bills passed by the Legislature. He signed three bills that will lead to significant changes in what students are taught in the classroom. Two will advance the process of adopting the Common Core standards in math and reading; the third will start the process of updating the state’s science curriculum. And he okayed bills making it easier for foster youth to enroll in college, allowing trained school staff to administer a life-saving drug for epileptic seizures, and giving the public more say in what school districts do to programs once protected by categorical funding that’s now available for general school use.

AB 250 (Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica): The State Board of Education adopted Common Core in August 2010. This bill sets out the timetable for creating curriculum frameworks, which will put muscle and flesh on the skeleton of the basic standards to better guide teachers on what students are expected to know. The math frameworks will be completed by May 30, 2013 and English language arts a year later. That in turn will lead to the process for textbook adoption. The bill also extends the contract for the current California Standards Tests through 2014, at which point, if all is on schedule, the new Common Core assessments being developed by a consortium of states will replace them.

SB 140 (Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach): The state is scheduled to start using the new Common Core assessments in 2014, one year before the State Board of Education is to formally adopt new textbooks aligned with Common Core standards. That’s clearly backwards, so SB 140 instructs the State Department of Education and the Board to compile a list of supplemental instructional materials for math and English language arts in elementary and middle school to use in the interim. Districts will have more flexibility than in the past in choosing materials; they’ll have a lot to choose from, since other states will be sharing what they’ve developed.

SB 300 (Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley): Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will appoint a committee including elementary and secondary science teachers, school administrators, and university professors to revise science standards for the first time since they were created 13 years ago. Their product will go to the State Board no later than March 2013 for its approval by July 30, 2013. The new standards will be based on the Next Generation Science Standards and will be the science version of the Common Core standards, a multistate effort, led by Achieve Inc. The standards will be an elaboration of the Framework for K-12 Education, written by the Board of Science Education of the National Research Council.

SB 161 (Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar): Until a few years ago, school nurses or trained teachers and staff administered a potentially life-saving emergency drug treatment to children suffering severe epileptic seizures. Nowadays, not only are school nurses a dying breed, but those remaining are no longer allowed to train anyone else to administer the drug, known as Diastat.

State law already allows teachers and staff to administer other emergency medications, but Diastat is different because it’s given rectally. SB 161 allows school staff to voluntarily take a course to learn how to administer Diastat with parents’ written consent.

AB 189 (Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park): Ever since the Legislature approved categorical flex starting in 2008, school districts have been able to take money that had been targeted for specific programs, like adult education, and put it into their general funds. Until now, the state hasn’t been able to track where the money is going and the public has had little say in what happens to categorical programs. AB 189 requires districts to hold public hearings when they propose eliminating categorical programs and creates a new resource code for reporting the expenditures to the state. The law also helps preserve some adult education programs by allowing districts to charge fees for classes in English as a second language and citizenship. AB 189 sunsets on July 1, 2015.

AB 194 (Jim Beall, D-San Jose): Foster youth have a dismal record of attending and completing college. About 20 percent of foster youth enroll in college, and barely 3 percent graduate. 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 new law 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. The bill would sunset July 1, 2017.

A common thread in education bills

All three bills designed to put California on steady footing for the coming of Common Core standards are now in Gov. Brown’s hands. State lawmakers yesterday approved the last of those measures along with measures that would require a common placement exam at community colleges, provide smoother passage for foster youth at state colleges, and grant relief for schools misidentified as failing.

Preparing for the common era

Assembly member Julia Brownley’s (D-Santa Monica) bill, AB 250, gets the process rolling for California to develop curriculum frameworks and assessments that are aligned to the coming Common Core standards.

The State Board of Education adopted Common Core state standards in English language arts and math last year, but until now California hasn’t had a process in place to align the curriculum, instructional materials, and student testing with the new standards, said Brownley in a statement issued after the vote.

“The Common Core state standards establish clear goals for learning to provide students with 21st century skills they need for success, such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and creativity,” said Brownley. “Once we implement these standards we will be able to compare the academic achievements of California students with those of students across the country.”

As we reported here last week, Brownley’s bill also postpones the end of the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting program, or STAR, by a year, until January 1, 2015, when it will be replaced by the new student assessments developed for Common Core.

The bill requires the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to work with the State Board of Education to develop model professional development training in the new frameworks and standards for teachers and principals.

Her bill also does something very uncommon in government; it simplifies a few things. Currently, the group that that recommends curriculum frameworks to the State Board of Education and develops criteria for evaluating those materials is called the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission. AB 250 renames it the Instructional Quality Commission.

Under its new, lighter banner, the commission would recommend curriculum frameworks that are aligned to Common Core standards. The State Board would have until May 30, 2013 to adopt the frameworks in math, and until the following May for English language arts. Those frameworks would have to include strategies for teaching disabled students.

AB 124, by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), ensures that the standards extend to English learners. His bill requires the State Superintendent to convene a group of experts to revise the curriculum, materials, and assessments for Common Core so they’re appropriate for English learners.

Common testing at Community Colleges

One of the biggest disgraces in California’s goal to ensure all high school graduates are college ready is the number of students required to enroll in remedial classes in community college.  About 70 percent of incoming community college students aren’t prepared for college-level English.  Math is even worse; 85 percent place into remedial classes.

Numerous studies have shown that the more time a student has to spend in a remedial course, the less likely that student is to graduate.

But those numbers vary across the state’s 112 community colleges, for the most part because there are nearly as many placement exams as there are campuses.  One count, by The National Center for Public Policy in Higher Education, found more than 94 different exams, although researchers identified three placements tests that were used more than most.

It’s a frustrating situation for students who may qualify for college math in one school, then transfer and find themselves in remedial classes.

That assortment of assessments will shrink under AB 743.  The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Marty Block (D-Lemon Grove), who chairs the Higher Education committee, establishes a uniform placement exam.

The Community College Chancellor’s Office would select the test, which would be an off-the-shelf exam.  But the new test wouldn’t be mandatory.  Colleges could continue to use their own placement exams, said Paige Marlatt Dorr, a spokeswoman for the Chancellor’s office.

“This bill will be an important step forward in getting all of the colleges to use the same test,” said Marlatt Dorr, and they’ll have a financial incentive to do so.   She said the Chancellor’s office will get a volume discount with an unlimited use license.

But, even if schools opt in for the common assessment, the bill doesn’t establish a uniform passing score, so students would still face individual campus disparities.

A college boost for foster youth

Even the dismal college success rate for students in remedial education is better than the odds for foster youth.  Of the 75,000 foster youth in California, 70 percent say they want to attend college.  But only 20 percent enroll and barely 3 percent graduate.  Somewhere between 600 and 800 former foster youth attend UC, 1,200 are at CSU, and 6,500 are enrolled in community colleges.

Those numbers could drop as budget cut force the state’s public colleges and universities to reduce course sections making it more difficult for students to get into the classes they need to graduate.

While there’s no single reason for these disheartening statistics, AB 194 by Assemblyman Jim Beall of San Jose, hopes to remove at least one obstacle.  It would require California State University and community colleges to give current and former foster youth priority enrollment. The University of California, which sets its own policies, indicated its support in a letter to Beall.

If the Governor signs AB 194, it would sunset in 2017.

Fixing a flaw in the Open Enrollment Act

San Pedro Elementary School in Marin County boosted its Academic Performance Index (API) by 60 points between 2009 and 2010, but the school was labeled low-performing.

“Something is wrong with our open enrollment system when high performing schools get labeled as low performers and grouped together with schools that truly need to improve academic performance,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman in a press release after the legislature sent his bill, AB 47, to Gov. Brown.

The measure would clear up some unintended consequences of the Open Enrollment Act, the 2010 law that California had to approve to be in the running for a Race to the Top grant. Not only didn’t the state get the money, but, Huffman says, the Act set up some high achieving schools to be labeled as low performing, a designation that lets parents move their children to higher-performing schools in any other district in the state.

AB 47 would change the method for identifying schools as low-achieving to exclude any school with an API of 700 or higher, or any school that’s increased its API score by 50 points of more from one year to the next.

Huffman’s bill also exempts County Office of Education schools for special education students, but adds charter schools to the mix.

Sherry Skelly Griffith, a legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators, says the Open Enrollment Act caused confusion and damaged morale at schools that were showing strong gains.  “Our Association believes that low performing schools should be held accountable,” said Griffith in a written statement, “and that can’t be accomplished if the wrong schools are labeled failing.”

Test scores up – not enough for feds

California schools had their best year yet toward meeting their targets on the Academic Performance Index (API), the state’s ranking system. So it’s puzzling why thousands of schools could face sanctions for not meeting federal proficiency levels. Trying to make sense of the complicated formulas that cause this discrepancy is like being a kid in a Peanuts comic strip listening to the teacher say “Wah wah wah.”

In one corner, we have nine years of continued gains on the California Standards Tests, with a record 49 percent of the state’s schools meeting or exceeding the API target of 800, according to scores released Wednesday by the state Department of Education.

“At school after school, and among every significant ethnic group, California’s students are performing better than ever,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, “even in the face of severe cuts to school funding.”

In the other corner are 913 schools about to join nearly 4,000 others already in Program Improvement status for failing to make large enough gains under the federal accountability system known as Adequate Yearly Progress. But here’s the rub: Many of the schools in Program Improvement and many of those succeeding in the state system are one and the same.

“We believe the No Child Left Behind policies are flawed,” said Torlakson during a call with journalists. “Despite 20- to 30-point gains, they [the schools] will be dubbed a failure; it doesn’t make sense.”

Torlakson sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last week seeking a waiver from designating anymore schools as failing to meet AYP. [Read our article here.]

William Habermehl, Superintendent of the Orange County Office of Education gave his full support to that request.  On the same call with Torlakson, Habermehl said, “We need to let Washington know that they need to return the control of public education back to the states and the local levels and stop this nonsense.”

Different rulers and different measures

California’s Academic Performance Index is based on a scale of 200 to 1,000. The state has set 800 as the target for all schools to meet. According to the API results, 55

Source: California Department of Education (Click to enlarge)
Source: California Department of Education (Click to enlarge)

percent of California’s elementary schools hit 800, while 43 percent of middle schools did so. At the same time, just 35 percent of elementary schools and 18 percent of middle schools met the federal targets.

The reason the state and federal results are so far apart is that API rankings are a composite of all student scores in each school. Although the State Department of Education does disaggregate test scores by race, ethnicity, language, and other traits, those aren’t factored into the API score.

The federal government has a higher bar. Under No Child Left Behind, every one of those subgroups must reach the proficiency level on the standardized exams in order for the school to pass.

But high schools are a slightly different beast.

They reversed the trend with just 28 percent reaching 800 on the API and 41 percent achieving Adequate Yearly Progress.

“Not only is the measuring stick different, it’s measuring something different,” explained Rachel Perry, director of assessment and accountability for the California Department of Education.

The API for high schools is a combination of California’s standards-based test scores and results of the California High School Exit Exam.  But Adequate Yearly Progress is based just on exit exam scores, and, as we reported here last week, passing rates are increasing.

Here come the caveats

The state’s information guide on Adequate Yearly Progress runs 81 pages.  Half-way through, on page 41, is the section on Safe Harbor.  It would take an entire article to describe all the conditions of Safe Harbor – and we plan to do that very soon – but the gist of it is that it gives schools a second chance to reach the NCLB pass level if subgroups have shown improvement on test scores.

Another point of possible distortion is the increasing number of special needs students taking California’s alternative test, the California Modified Assessments.  One of our regular Op-Ed contributors has a column on that today.

Then there’s the issue of what it means when a school reaches 800 on the API scale.  The state Department of Education puts so much stock on the number that it’s taken

Source:  California Department of Education. (Click to enlarge)
Source: California Department of Education. (Click to enlarge)

on a magical aura of success.  But that’s not the case.  As the chart on the right shows, each level, from far below basic to advanced, is assigned a numeric value.   So a score of 800 doesn’t indicate that all the students in a school are proficient or better, just a little over half of them.

“Your API score doesn’t necessarily give you information about a subject area or grade level,” said Perry.  “That’s part of the difficulty of the index. But it’s part of the beauty, too, because you know students are doing better.”

State’s second graders get a STAR

A third attempt to end second-grade testing in California has fallen short. The Assembly Appropriations Committee placed Sen. Loni Hancock’s bill under submission, blocking it from consideration for the remainder of this session.

For a while, SB 740 seemed to be on a winning path, clearing each legislative hurdle with few tribulations and many powerful supporters. So advocates for SB 740, all of them thoroughly familiar with the vagaries of the legislative process, were understandably caught off guard by the appropriations committee’s action.

When we first wrote about it last June, the bill had the backing of the California PTA, both state teachers’ unions, and the California School Boards Association. Since then, Tom Torlakson, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, has signed on, sending a letter to the chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee that urged him to support this “much-needed measure.”

Torlakson’s letter summed up the primary arguments for the bill.

  • Educators, psychologists, and early childhood education experts say high-stakes testing of young children does not provide valid and reliable data,
  • Eliminating second-grade STAR tests in California would save the state more than $2 million a year,
  • California is one of perhaps 10 states that test second graders, and
  • Second-grade testing is not required under No Child Left Behind and will not be included in the new Common Core standards under development.
  • Committee action is baffling

    Hancock’s bill also appeared to have, if not Gov. Brown’s blessing, then at least his belief in the concept. In the May budget revision, the Governor wrote that “testing takes huge amounts of time from classroom instruction,” and said he would reform the state’s testing and accountability system by engaging “teachers, scholars, school administrators and parents to develop proposals to reduce the amount of time devoted to state testing in schools.”

    “We are baffled as to why this would not get out of the Appropriations Committee,” said Sandra Jackson, spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association. “There was a lot of support for the bill.  There was cost savings. There is plenty of formative and summative testing already.”

    Savings may be outweighed

    There was also mounting opposition and doubts – doubts about the efficacy of waiting too long to test students on state standards, unintended financial consequences, and timing.

    “Under the guise of saving a small amount of money, SB 740 eliminates an early assessment that helps schools identify kids who need extra help and use best practices to give them the additional assistance they need to reach grade level expectations,” wrote EdVoice, a nonprofit organization working for school reform in California, in a call to action on its website.

    EdVoice has been an unwavering and vocal opponent of Hancock’s legislation.

    However, it’s a misnomer to paint all supporters as opposed to testing and accountability. They say they want appropriate and useful testing, and contend that the California Standards Test, which is part of the Standardized Testing and Reporting system or STAR, is neither.

    “The California State PTA believes early assessment is critical to improving public education for all children, helping them to reach grade level proficiency, and to provide services needed for success,” wrote Patty Scripter, the California State PTA’s Legislative Advocate, in a letter of support last June.  However, she said that if the goal is to understand students’ strengths and weaknesses in order to give them individual attention, then standardized tests are ineffective.

    Scripter said that while the committee’s action was disappointing, it’s also understandable in light of the coming switch to Common Core standards that will revamp the state’s entire testing system.  “Some people thought this wasn’t the time to be making changes,” she said.

    Analysts for the State Department of Finance and the Assembly Appropriations Committee also suggested that that the money saved by eliminating the test could have backfired on school districts and the California Department of Education.

    Even though Finance didn’t take a position on SB 740, in its analysis of the bill Department officials pointed out that any money saved by doing away with the second grade test would revert to the Proposition 98 General Fund and that’s off limits to the CDE to use for state operations.

    Meanwhile, school districts that decided to give their second grade students other diagnostic tests in place of the STAR exam wouldn’t have been reimbursed by the state and would have had to pay out of pocket at a time when their budgets are already bare bones.

    Few bragging rights in test scores

    California students did better than ever on the state’s achievement tests.  More of them scored at the proficient level or above in math and English than at any time since the testing program began in 2003.  But the pace of change may put a twist on the fabled lesson of slow and steady wins the race.

    California Standards Test results for all students in English and math between 2003 and 2011 (California Dept. of Education) click to enlarge
    California Standards Test results for all students in English and math between 2003 and 2011 (California Dept. of Education) click to enlarge

    Of about 4.7 million students in grades 2 through 11 who took the California Standards Tests (CST) last spring, 54 percent were proficient or better in English language arts (ELA) and 50 percent scored proficient or higher in math – an increase of 19 percentage points in ELA and 15 percentage points in math over nine years.

    In announcing the results on Monday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson credited the increases to the “heroic efforts of teachers” and “valiant work of administrators, classified school employees, and parents” despite the billions in cuts to education in recent years, and wondered aloud how well students might do if schools were funded at a decent level.

    Slow and steady progress not enough

    Here’s the part, however, where the seemingly large increases of 19 and 15 points begin to shrink. On a yearly basis, that amounts to barely 2 percentage points.

    “You have to ask yourself is that enough?” said Ron Dietel, with the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, & Student Testing (CRESST) at UCLA. “They wouldn’t cause me to jump up and down and say it’s anything more than teaching the curriculum.”

    What’s more, said Dietel, if you look at the state’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a standardized test taken by a large sample of fourth and eighth grade students across the country, California students score below the national average of proficient or better in math and English for both grades.

    While NAEP isn’t aligned to California’s standards, Dietel said it’s still the “closest thing to having an outside barometer in terms of how states are performing.”

    Two percent a year also doesn’t impress James Lanich, director of policy and research for California Business for Education Excellence, who says he’s not surprised by the results. “We basically have no functional accountability system,” said Lanich, explaining why there are no incentives for schools to try harder.

    “I have a litmus test; I ask the question, ‘What happens to a school or a school district that is not doing its job?’ And the answer is ‘absolutely nothing.’ And I’ll ask the reverse question; ‘What happens to a school that’s doing an extraordinary job?’ And the answer is ‘absolutely nothing.'”

    Minding the gap

    Still, Lanich sees many examples of the “valiant” efforts that Torlakson described, particularly when it comes to closing the achievement gap.

    English language arts scores by subgroup (California Dept. of Education) click to enlarge
    English language arts scores by subgroup (California Dept. of Education) click to enlarge

    Statewide, the gap has been with us for so long it seems immutable. While 76 percent of Asian students and 71 percent of white students score at proficient or above in ELA, just 41 percent of African American students and 42 percent of Hispanic students reach those levels.  Corresponding results in math are lower for every subgroup, with the exception of Asian students.

    But some districts are making progress in bringing everyone closer together. Hispanic students in Santa Clara County reduced the achievement gap with white students from 43 percentage points to 38 in ELA, and from 39 to 30 in math for students in second through seventh grades.

    “The important point to make,” said Charles Weis, Superintendent of the County Office of Education, is that “it didn’t happen because top performers came down; every group continued to go up this year and the Hispanic group grew even faster.”

    Statewide, students showing the greatest one-year gains are those receiving special education services.  While the number scoring proficient or above in math fell within the statistically expected 3 percentage points, in English language arts they jumped by five points from 2010 to 2011.

    But even that may not be what it appears.  As John Fensterwald reports today in the Educated Guess, the increase may have more to do with who isn’t taking the CST than who is taking it.

    There are also signs the state is coming to terms with another gap of sorts: the subject gap. Ever since high stakes testing began, critics have worried that anything not math or English was getting short shrift. It’s not just a California thing. On the most recent NAEP history exam, 17 percent of eighth grade students performed at or above proficient, meaning more than 80 percent couldn’t explain changes in colonial slave practices or identify the rights protected by the first amendment.

    So it seems noteworthy that more California students are taking the standardized tests in science and history and they’re scores are improving, albeit as slowly as in math and English.

    Despite all the “buts,” it’s understandable that superintendents and principals are pleased – or at least relieved – by the results.  They show success in efforts to keep budget cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.  But – there’s that nagging word again – that margin of protection may not hold if districts are hit with mid-year cuts.

    “That really is the big question right now,” said Santa Clara County Superintendent Charles Weis.  “If we keep starving the system it’s inevitable that we’re going to see a dip, and I’m just very pleased that we didn’t see it this year.”

    EQI may replace API in rankings

    California’s Academic Performance Index (API) was never supposed to be based on a single test. When it was created as part of the Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999, the legislation was clear on that point.

    “This bill would require the Superintendent of Public Instruction, with approval of the State Board of Education, by July 1, 1999, to develop the Academic Performance Index (API), consisting of a variety of indicators, to be used to measure performance of schools, especially the academic performance of pupils.”

    In the dozen years since, the only variety has been in the changing high-stakes tests used to determine the school rankings. That would change under a set of bills approved yesterday by the Assembly education committee. SB 547, 611 and 612, by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), would reduce the emphasis on the California Standards Test by limiting the exams to no more than 40 percent of a high school’s overall ranking, and a minimum of 40 percent for middle and elementary schools.

    The new measurement system would also replace the API with a new system known as the Education Quality Index, or EQI, which would be based on multiple measures developed by a committee headed by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson. For starters, however, SB 547 calls for including graduation rates and how well schools prepare students for college and career success. And the bill allows more measures to be added down the road.

    Free throws aren’t everything

    Years ago, when I wrote about critics who said the API measure was too narrow, Jay Rosner, executive director of the Princeton Review Foundation, used a sports metaphor to illustrate. If Shaquille O’Neal were judged only on his free throws, he’d never have made it to the pros, said Rosner; that wasn’t his strength. Steinberg and California school superintendent Tom Torlakson reached into the wide world of sports to make a similar point in an OpEd that appeared in Wednesday’s Sacramento Bee.

    “No one would judge Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum’s performance based on one inning,” they wrote, “why should parents and the public judge a school based on one set of tests?”

    They warn that too much emphasis on standardized tests narrows the curriculum to the subjects being tested and ignores other important aspects of education.

    “Are students staying in school or dropping out? Are they ready to continue their education? Do they have the training and skills to start a career? A test score alone won’t answer those questions.”

    Ready for change

    Just a year after California enacted the Public Schools Accountability Act, Congress approved No Child Left Behind, which added even more significance to high-stakes tests. Now it looks like history may repeat itself in reverse. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has already announced (and we reported here) that unless Congress takes up reauthorization in the next few weeks, the Department of Education will start granting waivers to give states some flexibility from the severe consequences if every student doesn’t score at the proficient level or better on their state exams.

    Duncan warned that without a relaxation of those provisions, more than 80 percent of the nation’s schools may be mislabeled as failing.

    Susanna Cooper, a consultant to Sen. Steinberg, says the frustration that’s been building among educators and state policy makers over the testing may account for the lack of opposition at yesterday’s committee hearing. In the long queue of people waiting to comment on the bills, not one spoke against them. Some said their organizations hadn’t taken a stand yet, but added that they generally support the measure.

    “I think the amount of support for the bill is striking because it (the bill) represents significant change, but I think that’s a reflection of the current limitations of the accountability system,” said Cooper. “I think people are just ready to do something else. We’re at a point where the system is ready to embrace change.”

    Parents: Don’t gut ‘parent trigger’

    Five dozen parents from Compton and all corners of Los Angeles drove all night in a packed school bus to deliver their message, in impassioned one-minute speeches in Spanish and English, to the State Board of Education: Don’t undermine the year-old  law giving parents the power to force structural changes in underperforming schools.

    “Our children have a right to a university education,” implored one parent. “Failure is not an option.”

    “We need your immediate attention,” demanded another. “Move swiftly to add to the mandate of a parent trigger law.”

    Board members listened closely, and appeared moved.

    “This is urgent,” agreed Yvonne Chan, a charter school principal from Los Angeles.

    “Your bus trip was worth it and made an impression today,” said new Board member James Ramos.

    “All of the Board is committed to move swiftly and thoughtfully to give you what you need,” said Gregory Jones.

    Then, within minutes, high intention ran into Sacramento reality. It became evident in the Board’s discussion that turning aspiration into regulation, urgency notwithstanding, will  not be quick or easy – and will likely be contentious.

    If parents came hopeful, they left Sacramento Wednesday uncertain and not a little bit suspicious.

    The “parent trigger” law that gives a majority of parents at a school the right to demand a change of leadership or bring in a charter school operator is “difficult,” said new Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson: “vague where it should be specific and specific where it should be flexible.”

    The emergency implementation regulations that the State Board adopted last summer provided little guidance and are set to expire next month. Parents at an elementary school in Compton that submitted the first parent trigger petition in December already have filed suit – and have won a preliminary injunction over burdens that the district required for signature verification. Parent groups at middle schools in Carson and Sunland-Tujunga, in northeast Los Angeles, are deep in their own petition drives. Spurred by the organizers of Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution,  parent activists want action now.

    But the draft regulations that the State Board worked on for half a year doesn’t address the conflicts that already have surfaced in Compton over tactics and procedures. Groups representing teachers, school boards, administrators, the state PTA, and Public Advocates, which represents low-income families, asked the Board to take more time to get the regulations right.

    Torlakson recommended – and the State Board unanimously agreed – to bring representatives of all of the groups, including Parent Revolution, together over the next month to hash out issues and provide direction to the Board.

    But his disclosure that the Department of Education would also work with Julia Brownley, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, on a “cleanup bill” to clarify the parent trigger law caught parent organizers by surprise and alarmed them. As an Assemblyman with close ties to the CTA last year, Torlakson led the opposition to the parent trigger law. Brownley proposed a watered-down version of the law.

    “We are  certain to see a repeal effort under another name,” said Gabe Rose, deputy director of Parent Revolution. “I have never heard in all public hearings and conference calls for eight months before now CDE (Department of Education) staff once say, ‘This law is just too hard; we need cleanup legislation.’”  (Go here for a short video interview of Gabe Rose.)

    The Department’s position is that it is going to be difficult to craft regulations that hold up in court with the parent trigger as currently written. But Chief Deputy Superintendent Richard Zeiger told me that Torlakson, while offering to work with Brownley, is not leading an effort to rewrite the law. He opposed the parent trigger because of philosophical differences; he questions whether parents should be given the authority to take control of a public asset. But he also saw problems with the law’s language.

    Important issues must be addressed,  Zeiger said, naming off a few:

    Definitions: Who is a parent? If parents from feeder schools have a say, how do you determine who?

    Transparency: How do you set up a process where everyone can participate and make it equitable for all parties (teachers, parents)? How do you ensure there will be an accurate presentation of options? Should there be an officially sanctioned petition title with early disclosure, as with other petition drives?

    Signatures: Does it matter if there are paid circulators? Should it be clear who is paying for the petition?

    Procedural: Does a petition drive extend beyond one year? How long does it last?

    Charter approval: Does a petition drive calling for a conversion charter school initiate a formal charter approval process, as with any new charter?

    Parent activists have very different concerns: They want the regulations to protect them from harassment from district officials; they want simple and easy signature verifications; and they want tight deadlines. They know districts will try to drag out the process.

    Agreeing that districts have a conflict of interest, newly nominated Board member Carl Cohn, a former superintendent from Long Beach and San Diego, suggested that county offices of education be brought in to oversee the petition and public hearing process. That likely would require a change in the law.

    The State Board has a number of difficult decisions: Should it let the emergency regulations expire; replace them with new ones; adopt the draft regulations it inherited, with changes (because of formal review time line, that would take months, regardless); start the regulations process again and watch to see what the Legislature does, if anything?

    For a State Board that wants to focus on issues of assessment, governance, finance reform and Common Core standards, the parent trigger issue will be time-consuming and controversial. For Gov. Jerry Brown, who will want a united campaign to pass tax extensions in June, any battle pitting parents against the education establishment would be perilous.

    CTA outspending ACSA in race

    Update: Thanks to reader Eric Premack, who points out that charter booster and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings did report contributing $400,000 on Oct. 20 as an independent expenditure on behalf of Larry Aceves.

    In the surrogate battle in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction, behemoth California Teachers Assn. has spent $3.4 million this year on behalf of its chosen one, Assembly member Tom Torlakson. This is more than double what the smaller Association of California School Administrators has spent promoting its favorite son, retired superintendent Larry Aceves of San Jose. In late September, CTA reported having spent $1.5 million on radio ads for Torlakson.

    So far this October, it’s been different. Keeping its powder dry, ACSA raised $604,000 and spent $639,000 from Oct. 1-16 in independent expenditures, on radio ads and slate mailers pushing Aceves’ candidacy, according to the latest  campaign finance reports. Since Jan. 1, ACSA reported spending $1.5 million for Aceves. CTA added $200,000 to its independent campaign and spent only $102,000 in October.

    But heading down the stretch, CTA has $296,000 left in its campaign chest for Torlakson, while ACSA had only $5,750 as of the end of the latest reporting period, Oct. 16.

    Torlakson also got help from the California Federation of Teachers, the smaller of the two teachers unions, which reported spending $180,000 on mailers in late September. (It spent $132,000 on mailers in the primary.) And two American Indian tribes, the Mission and the Chumash, reported spending $233,000 in the past two months on TV ads and mailers for Torlakson.

    Independent expenditures have dwarfed  the candidates’ own campaigns. Aceves has raised only $166,000 since Jan. 1, including $37,000 in October. He spent $14,600 in October, leaving him $56,000 in the bank.

    Torlakson has raised $1,056,000 since the start of the year, including $140,000 in October. He spent $88,000 this month, leaving him $327,000  to spend before the Nov. 2 election.

    CTA poured money into the June primary, when Torlakson also faced state Sen. Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat who attacked the CTA and crossed it in pushing the state’s Race to the Top legislation this year.  Pro-charter school EdVoice, backed by philanthropists Eli Broad and Reed Hastings, spent $1.5 million promoting her candidacy. But, in a surprise finish in June, she came in third, narrowly behind Torlakson and Aceves.

    Aceves is not nearly as threatening to CTA as Romero; he got along well with his union when he was superintendent of Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose, and he is selling himself as someone who can bring factions together (also Torlakson’s theme). So, since June, CTA has been freed to focus its firepower on Meg Whitman. In the latest reporting period, CTA said it spent $3.4 million on the govenrnor’s race, mainly in anti-Whitman TV and radio ads.

    EdVoice and the charter school funders have largely sat out the Torlakson-Aceves race, although Aceves recently got $2,500 from John Danner, founder of Rocketship Education, a charter school group in San Jose, and $2,500 from Virginia-based K12, which operates online charters nationwide, including operations in several California counties.

    Aceves’ biggest contributors are the Silicon Valley power couple Jim and Becky Morgan (the latter a state senator from 1984 – 1993), who together have contributed $16,500 since Jan. 1.

    Torlakson has gotten tens of thousands in donations from a bunch of unions, including those representing nurses, iron workers, peace officers, carpenters, and service workers.