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