News, Views & Capitol Updates on All Things Education
Edited by Senator Bob Huff
Member of the Senate Education Committee
Welcome to the Huff Chalkboard, a source for news, views and insider updates from Sacramento on California education issues. As a member of the Senate Education Committee, I am pleased to keep you updated on some of the leading stories concerning California’s education system. I will also provide some of my own thoughts on topics and challenges facing education today. Please feel free to send me your feedback and any ideas you have to improve the Huff Chalkboard newsletter. Thank you for your readership.
- Senator Bob Huff
Calif. parents file state school board complaint
Four parents from across California filed an ethics complaint against a member of the state Board of Education, charging she has a conflict of interest because she is a lobbyist employed by the state teachers union.
Jobs vs. brain damage: Epilepsy bill sparks fight
The California Medical Association is among the groups supporting SB 161, and the California School Nurses Organization is one of the leading groups opposing it.
Managing the Teacher Workforce
Calls to reform teacher layoff policies have begun to appear with regularity in newspaper editorials, policy briefs, and statehouses–and for good reason. A growing body of research confirms that teacher quality is the most influential in-school factor driving student achievement. That being the case, teacher dismissal policies and procedures can have profound implications for how much students learn.
Highly rated instructors go beyond teaching to the standardized test
Some Southern California teachers are finding ways to keep creativity in the lesson plan even as they prepare their students for standardized tests.
State Board of Education tentatively OKs ‘parent-trigger’ rules
The State Board of Education gave tentative approval to rules outlining how parents may petition to dramatically restructure their children’s low-performing schools.
Education Funding Flexibility Bill Clears House Committee
State and district officials would get broad leeway to shift federal dollars now aimed at particular populations–such as children in poverty–to other programs, under a measure approved by the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
California teacher layoff law stirs confusion, criticism
The state measure bars layoffs for a year, but districts are uncertain whether it will require them to rehire teachers or restore programs cut earlier this year.
Diamond Bar High School ranked highly by Newsweek, Washington Post
Two prominent publications recently gave Diamond Bar High School high marks for its preparation of students for college.
School district brings back laid off teachers
Of the 210 school district teachers laid off this year, 88 have been brought back, and officials are hopeful they can bring back more.
Charter School Forges Ahead With Expansion
While the organization’s initial efforts are yielding strong test results among elementary students, the expansion plan is drawing opposition from the superintendent and teachers’ union in the county’s biggest district, who say the Palo Alto nonprofit is cutting out local officials who were elected by voters to oversee education.
Study reignites debate on school construction policy
Research released by the National University System Institute for Policy Research says that school construction in California costs 13 percent to 15 percent more when project labor agreements are implemented.
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VIDEO: Why School Choice Matters
The Wall Street Journal interviews Author and Professor Jay Greene and his new book on education reform.
California’s Greek tragedy: New lows in mortgaging our children’s future
By Arun Ramanathan
World events sometimes display an odd connection. On June 30th, in a closely watched vote, the Greek Parliament approved a package of financial stability measures while angry protestors clashed with police in the streets. The vote stabilized Greece’s finances, reassured its creditors and calmed nervous investors worldwide.
Stealth attack on California’s schools
LA Times Editorial
AB 114 was passed to appease the California Teachers Assn., to the detriment of school districts, which are already in serious financial straits.
History textbooks: No slant required
LA Times Editorial
Whether in Texas or California, politicians and interest groups have no rightful place in the writing of textbooks.
Democrats’ political payoff to teachers
San Francisco Chronicle Editorial
Now, no one wants to see teachers laid off in this state. But the notion that any line item would be made sacrosanct at a time when the decisions facing governments at all levels range from unsavory to excruciating is just plain irresponsible.
College ‘fee’ hikes include hidden taxes
OC Register Editorial
Big chunk of tuition is diverted to financial aid for other students, which sounds like a tax.
Exposing California’s costly school construction secret
By Eric Hogue
When it comes to public school investment, what’s more important: building schools or making sure that the teachers inside them have the resources to be successful?
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Parent Trigger law almost complete
Earlier this month, I proudly spoke before the State Board of Education to support passing regulations on the Parent Trigger law and ensure the program can be used without the kind of legal problems Compton Unified parents ran into this year. I joined scores of parents who filled the hearing room. In the end, the regulations passed and if they are approved once more at the next hearing, they will become law.
Indefensible school legislation
Virtually every school advocacy group and many editorial boards are fuming over the education trailer bill passed in this year’s budget. AB 114 ties the hands of school districts to control their budgets and abolishes local school fiscal oversight. Here are some samples of the reactions to the bill:
The school consulting company School Services of California said, “The California Legislature, by seeking to order schools to operate in a fiscally irresponsible manner, has eclipsed all of its previous low standards for ethics and integrity.”
The California School Boards Association said, “If midyear education cuts are realized, AB 114 severely restricts the ability of school districts to address…cuts in a realistic and fiscally responsible manner.”
Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee said, “the legislation testifies to the immense clout that the CTA wields among the Legislature’s majority Democrats.”
The Education Trust West said, “Our leaders took financial overindulgence to a new level. Not only have they institutionalized irresponsible budgeting at a state level, they’ve mandated that local districts act in similarly irresponsible ways and removed the authority of the folks responsible for auditing them.”
Other critics include the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times.
And when a bill came before the Senate to make technical amendments to AB 114, I took the opportunity to join the chorus in speaking against this indefensible legislation.
NOTE TO PARENTS:
Whooping cough deadline likely to be extended
Last month I reminded all parents that children must receive a whooping cough immunization shot or appropriate booster before the first day of school, or kids would be forbidden from attending school. There is now pending legislation on the Governor’s desk to extend the deadline for immunizations to 30 days past the first day of school. The Governor is expected to sign the bill.
Budget is better off now without taxes
Earlier this year, Democratic leaders said it would be impossible to fund education without raising taxes on taxpayers. Indeed, they held multiple hearings for the public to see what could happen to schools without tax increases. But what we now know is that schools are receiving more state money without taxes than was proposed in the Governor’s January budget proposal with taxes. At least one school district is hiring back every last teacher that received a layoff notice – all 445 teachers. And this is under a budget without tax increases! This really demonstrates we really can prioritize education in the budget without raising taxes.
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A Word from Senator Huff
Second Grade Testing: Foundation for Success
For years now, a handful of representatives in Sacramento have been adamantly working to put an end to second grade standardized testing. And for years I have been a voice in Sacramento to ensure we preserve this critical test. I even brokered a deal to maintain funding for the program back in 2007.
Each spring, the California Standards Test (STAR test) is administered to students in grades 2 through 11 in order to get a snapshot of what these pupils know and where they need help. The test measures a student’s knowledge of selected subjects based on academic standards established for his or her grade level.
For second graders, experts have identified reading as the most important subject. Reading is referred to as the “gateway skill” because clearly, only students who can read can truly advance in other subjects. The converse is also true: analysis of student programs found that seventy four percent of children who were poor readers in the third grade remain poor readers in the ninth grade.
SB 740, introduced by Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), would do away with the 2nd grade STAR test. Ending second grade testing means that children will have to wait an entire year – until entering the fourth grade – before his or her academic strengths and weaknesses are identified and addressed. This is far too late. By fourth grade, students should no longer be learning to read, but reading to learn. Those still struggling to read a sentence will not be able to navigate a social studies text; those without a grasp of basic math facts will be hard-pressed to proceed to higher-order problem solving, especially those involving word problems.
If we want to know why Johnny can’t read or why Jane can, we must have a way to assess and measure their progress. It is testing in the early grades that identifies how well schools are teaching the building blocks of learning, particularly reading and mathematics. The 2nd grade California Standards Test is the only statewide test used to identify students who are falling behind and need help.
Proponents of the repeal claim it will save the state money or that these students are too young to be taking tests. But these are really just red herrings to mask an agenda seeking to chip away at our accountability system.
If we want to save money by removing tests, it would be far more effective to target some of the redundant tests given in high school instead of one of the more crucial tests to ensure students start their academic career on the right foot. And to those who assert it is premature to give these tests, it is important to point out that we require that students in grades K-12 take the California English Language Development Test -- should we stop subjecting students in grades K-2 to this test also? Again, these arguments are simply distractions.
Last year legislation to repeal second grade testing did not earn enough votes to even pass its first committee hearing (a rare occurrence for majority party authored bills). This year however, the issue has made significant headway in the Legislature. And past statements by the Governor have signaled he may sign the legislation into law - an unfortunate prospect for California students.
Those who do not support this test argue we must “let kids be kids.” I agree wholeheartedly, but we also need to address our high dropout rates and do a better job of preparing our students for a productive life. By slamming shut the state’s second grade standardized testing program, parents and teachers will be less likely to know which students -- particularly low income and minority students - are falling further behind.
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