Brown vetoes API alternative

He disagrees over the use of data

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.”

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  1. Brown, unlike Torlakson and Steinberg, has actually run schools. I know from contacts in the Oakland School for the Arts community that Brown has been deeply, intensively involved in running the school (one of the two charters Brown started as mayor of Oakland) for its entire existence. So I give him credit for thoughtful decisionmaking based on far more experience than most in vetoing SB547.
    (I have some mixed feelings about his involvement in those charters, as they have more money than God thanks to his clout and efforts, and that just isn’t fair to other kids in other schools; but the depth of his understanding can’t be denied.)
    I don’t know what to think about his veto of the Parent Trigger tweaks. But in fact, it appears that Parent Revolution has quietly dropped the Parent Trigger as a strategy anyway after the charter that it eventually got going in Compton failed to enroll many kids from the school Parent Revolution targeted, according to the New York Times. It kind of tarnishes the claim that parents were clamoring to have their school taken over by the charter operator and were “empowered” by the Parent Trigger when it’s time for the parents to vote with their feet and they overwhelmingly vote to stay at the supposedly “failed” school that they supposedly wanted dismantled. (The new charter is two blocks away.)
    Based on all recent reports, it appears that Parent Revolution is going around the state, including to non-”failing” schools that wouldn’t qualify for the Parent Trigger, vaguely trying to organize “parents’ unions.” It’s presumably a ploy to convince their funders they’re still worth supporting despite the fiasco in Compton.

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  2. Good for Jerry Brown for refusing to join the brigade of those who would destroy the only annul report to the public on how California public schools are doing in reading, math, science and social science. The California Teachers Association (CTA) didn’t need to take an official position on SB 547 because so many of its friends were carrying the water by supporting that bill.
    As for the Governor’s  suggestion about community visitations to schools, we did that in San Diego in 1996-98 and it was powerful, if incendiary.  The howls of protest from teachers and principals at school sites found wanting on our scrupulously-prepared rubrics provided rich copy in the press as sacred cows were gored, to mix a metaphor. Shortly after that moment of democratic “reform,” we got our first non-educator superintendent who was backed by the Chamber of Commerce  and espoused top-down  reform based on the “business-model” — and so the pendulum has swung back and forth  ever since.
    Over these years the only constants in all the turmoil have been academic content standards, annual tests and annual publication of schools’ Academic Performance Index (API) which Steinberg’s bill would have scuttled.  With Brown’s  retaining the API, the public has  at least some idea about who’s on first when it comes to their community schools.

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  3. ‘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.”’

    Doesn’t WASC already do this for high schools in California?

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  4. Although an active member of CASC which supported this bill, I have to agree with you and Governor Brown, Fran.  I’m glad to see that you remain a citizen dedicated to quality education for all of our children.

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  5. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different outcomes. We all know about that, and that, as I read it, that was Brown’s justification for the veto. The API and the AYP have not done a thing for student achievement. We continue to obsess about the tree of measurement and ignore the forest of what is needed to support real learning. The conditions of poverty that peel more than a decade off the lives of people living in areas of concentrated poverty have devastating effects on the ability of kids to function in school. The learning deficits are in place as students arrive for their first day of Kindergarten. Schools in CA trail the nation in the resources provided to try and mitigate the conditions of poverty. Test scores are just a symptom, poverty is the problem. Poverty, though, is complicated and expensive to deal with. Having one number, be it API or AYP or EQI is so very simple.  And so very wrong.

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  6. Wow, el, I can’t believe you cite WASC as a standard for anything. If ever there were a dog-and-pony show, WASC is it. And it only concerns high schools — not K-8 schools where the groundwork is laid.
    It’s true that if a school doesn’t get WASC-accredited, it’s a sign of big trouble, but mostly it’s about outsiders — not locals — looking at all aspects of a school’s program over several days while the locals host breakfast, lunch and dinner and provide meticulously-prepared documents  that reflect well on the administration,  faculty and selected student and community leaders.

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  7. @el – I have been a part of at least three six-year WASC efforts at different high schools and I was not very impressed. My second experience involved being a parent at the high school and after seeing several entreaties circulate about how parents were needed to participate, I was told by an assistant principal at the school that they had no role for parents to play in the WASC review.
    I should also note that in my experience, WASC panels typically have no local representation on them. They include educators from other systems in the state.  I like Brown’s suggestions (they are not new, by the way); they remind me of the British “inspectorate” system.

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