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.

This entry was posted in 2010 elections, Education Excellence Committee on by .

About John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (, one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

5 thoughts on “Listen to good advice, Jerry Brown

  1. Caroline Grannan

    Gov.-elect Brown has actually founded and been heavily involved in the running of two schools over quite a few years now. I know that he has been more directly involved than the public is aware.
    That actually makes him more qualified than some of the people giving this advice to comment on what it takes to help a school succeed — or at least gives him an informed perspective and direct experience that some of them lack.
    Here’s Brown’s statement about what has learned from that experience:

    From my experience in starting and running these schools, I have gained first-hand experience in how difficult it is to enable all students to be ready for college and careers. Student outcomes are a complex interaction of student characteristics, teacher competence, instructional materials, and parental support. Any reforms and state educational policies must take into account this complexity and refrain from oversimplifying the problems and solutions.

    Below is a look, from earlier this year, at how those schools are doing. I actually think Brown deserves more credit than this article and some of his critics give him, however. He thought it would be easy; he learned from real life that it’s not; he has doggedly worked to do what it took to help the struggling schools survive; and he has been pretty candid (recently, at least) about having his eyes opened by the experience.
    East Bay Express April 28, 2010
    Jerry Brown Raised $12 Million for His Two Oakland Schools
    Ten years after Brown founded two Oakland charter schools, their test scores remain uninspiring — despite the millions he’s showered on them.

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  2. Gary Ravani

    I do hope Jerry Brown pays attention to “Getting Down to Facts” and the 23 studies. Particularly to two that called for an injection of $34 billion and $1.5 trillion (that’s with a T). Throw in the $18 billion in cuts and the $1.5 billion Ed Source estimates it wil take to implement the new national standards (Common Core) and now we’re talking real money.

    And, of course, there was the usual bloviating about “reforming the system” before investing in the system. That would make more sense if we weren’t the national bottom feeders in funding per child. Right. Excuse me. That’s in “cost of living adjusted” dollars and Mississippi and Alabama-as I recall-still have even lower funding than we do. (That’s something we can be proud of.)

    I would even support “reforming the system.” If  “reform” meant following a Deming management model and moving the locus of control over instructional matters to those who do the work of instruction-the teachers.

    And then there is following the model of the vaunted Singapore and Finnish educational systems and the elimination of most-if not all- of the destructive standardized testing. And then there’s the ten (approx) page Finnish national math standards. That’s interesting. Our new math standards run to over 90 pages.  That’s a lot more pages than the Finns have. Is that what makes them “world class?”

    It would appear, Governor Brown, you have an uphill climb in front of you.

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  3. David B. Cohen

    Gary, I’m glad you mentioned Deming.  It was quite an eye-opener for me to read his principles for effective organizational management.  If only more people talking about education reform were thinking this way.  I wrote a blog post that goes into more detail about education applications of Deming’s ideas:

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  4. IAmRight

    The Department of Education is one of those “feel good” federal agencies that simply don’t solve the problem that they were created to fix.

    I can go in depth on this subject (and actually do if you are interested.)

    The students may wish for more funding, but do they stop and ask where that funding comes from?

    We have turned into an entitlement society, caring not that government does not create wealth but only takes it.

    The more money government throws into the Department of Education, the higher prices for Education will rise. this includes student loans and subsides.

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