News, Views & Capitol Updates on All Things Education
Edited by Senator Bob Huff
Member of the Senate Education Committee
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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
Last month I reported on a few pending bills awaiting action by the governor. Here is how the governor acted on them and others:
AB 47 (Limits Open Enrollment program): VETO
SB 547 (Replaces the Academic Performance Index with the Education Quality Index): VETO
AB 815 (Creates the State Seal of Biliteracy): SIGNED INTO LAW
SB 161 (Allows trained volunteers to administer emergency anti-seizure medication): SIGNED INTO LAW
AB 189 (Requires separate school board meetings for certain education funding proposals): SIGNED INTO LAW
Out of all bills sent to the governor, he signed over 85% of them. That’s the fewest vetoed bills since 2003.
Race to the Top
Governor Jerry Brown has decided to enter the Race to the Top competitive grant for early learning programs. He has made clear that he doesn’t want anything in the application to create new cost pressures after the grant money dries up. But the governor has not yet decided if he will enter California in the third round of K-12 Race to the Top funding. It’s unclear why he would enter one program that could bring in millions to California public schools but reject another. Governor Brown should announce California’s participation in the grant competition – time is running out.
This month I spent time on a school site visit to the Oxford Preparatory Academy Charter School in Chino and a recipient of the Barona Educational Grant. Just one year after this charter took over, the school became the top performing school in the district. Every facet of the school puts a strong focus on academic achievement; even the rooms are named after premier universities to remind students of what their hard work can achieve. Students also have a great deal of access to their teachers, including after hours. Their commitment to developing life-long learners is to be commended.
Foundation for Excellence Education Summit
The Foundation for Excellence held an event in San Francisco this month with a special focus on education technology We recently learned California ranks dead last when compared with other states. You can watch videos of the summit here. Of special interest is Sal Khan, a celebrated education and creator of the Khan Academy. Khan has created some 2,400 educational videos from his home on subjects ranging from math to history to civics. Students from all over the world use his free videos to complement their public school education and are an excellent example of how technology can rapidly improve education.
It’s Not About the Money
And from Washington DC, Senator Jeff Sessions -- the ranking member of the United States Senate Budget Committee -- put together a white paper on the state of education in America. Conclusion: We need to spend public education dollars (over $500 billion nationwide) more wisely. Read the entire paper here.
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A Word On Education From Senator Huff
Are We Putting Education into High Gear?
This month Governor Brown vetoed one of the most prominent education bills of the year. SB 547 would have completely replaced California’s decade old school and student performance measurement known as the Academic Performance Index (API). I agree with the governor’s move to veto but I must take issue with the page-and-a half veto message that explains his rejection of the law.
Part of the governor’s opposition to SB 547 stems from the fact that it adds new student and school criteria to measure for performance. But in his veto message he says it is “doubtful that it would actually improve our schools.” He further underscores this point with a metaphor: “Adding more speedometers to a broken car won't turn it into a high-performance machine.”
This is true enough, but is it fair or wise to focus on how it won’t directly improve education? The point of the API is to measure how well students are doing in order to see what our return on investment in public education truly is. Does the governor realize his litmus test could be used for so many other positions he takes on education? To build on the governor’s metaphor:
New upholstery and paint won’t turn a broken car into a “high performance machine” either. But that’s the concept behind SB 128, which designates bond money to make school facilities more “green.” We can have a healthy debate about whether or not that is a sufficient use of taxpayer dollars but is this really going to help students learn? Past experience tells us no. For example, in the LA Unified School District, some of the most expensive school facilities in the district -- including the Santee Education Complex or the Robert F. Kennedy complex, infamously known as the “most expensive school in the US” -- are complete with professional kitchens, a theater that would make Broadway blush, or an entire diner just for the teachers’ lounge. Unfortunately, these same schools are also some of the worst performing schools in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, the governor signed SB 128, perhaps buying into the idea that a new façade will translate into better test scores.
Tying the hands of the driver won’t make a car run more efficiently. Yet that’s what happened this year with the signing of AB 114 which stripped school districts of control over local budgets. Pushed by union bosses in Sacramento, AB 114 has been lambasted by school districts, advocacy groups and editorial boards up and down the state. The California School Boards Association said AB 114 “severely restricts the ability of school districts to address…cuts in a realistic and fiscally responsible manner.” School Services of California went even further after the passage of AB 114 saying “[t]he California Legislature has eclipsed all of its previous low standards for ethics and integrity.” The bill certainly protected union interests but there really is no way to argue it benefited our schools.
Petroleum is necessary for the vehicle to work properly but putting more gas in the tank won’t make it a sports car. So far, the governor has called for pumping more money into the education system but refuses to ensure those dollars are being spent productively. As I have reported before, funding our schools is very important but how it is spent is just as, if not more important.
During budget negotiations this year, the governor asked the Legislature to put higher taxes on a statewide ballot. As part of that deal, some Republicans wanted to see structural government reform including some to our education laws. Primarily, these Republican members were asking to reform the antiquated Last In, First Out (LIFO) policy which forbids school districts from hiring teacher and school employees based on performance.
The law says even if you’re the best teacher in the school, if you were the last one hired, you are the first to go should there be layoffs. Using the governor’s analogy, this is like pretending all pistons and cylinders are all the same no matter what size or condition, and expecting the car to still go from zero to sixty in no time. Needless to say, reforming LIFO was not something the governor was interested in doing.
Indeed, the governor was right to have vetoed the overhaul of the API, but if he vetoed the bill because he believes it won’t improve our education system, he may want to look in the rear view mirror and make sure he is holding all of his decisions on education policy to the same standard.
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Brown signs bill aiding students prone to seizures
Under a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, school districts can train nonmedical personnel to administer anti-seizure medication to epileptic students having a seizure.
Adult-ed makes connection between school, jobs in Hacienda La Puente Unified
While high unemployment continues to plague the region and nation, administrators at the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District adult education program seem to have found a strong tie to employment for students of their healthcare classes - so strong that employers come to them.
School officials to challenge legality of California budget
Local school officials said today they will sue California over $2.1 billion in education funding they believe state leaders should have provided in the June budget.
Burr NCLB Bill Would Consolidate 59 Education Programs
Despite new momentum lately, it doesn't look like Congress will get around to renewing the No Child Left Behind Act by the end of this year. But it's (almost) a sure bet that lawmakers will be looking to reshape the programs in the U.S. Department of Education, either by eliminating some, or by consolidating smaller programs into broader funding streams.
Jobs's Wife Backs Education Causes
Steve Jobs spoke very little in public about philanthropy, and he didn't participate in the "Giving Pledge," a campaign led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to get billionaires to commit to giving away much of their wealth.
California schools scrambling to add lessons on LGBT Americans
Many are flummoxed about how to carry out a new law requiring California public schools to teach all students, from kindergartners to 12th-graders, about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans
Chief of state’s charter school division stepping down
The departure of Beth Hunkapiller at the end of October comes at a time of continuing expansion of charter schools in California. At the same time, the state faces considerable pressures regarding oversight of state and federal dollars, especially at start-up charter schools.
Union leaders and teachers defend L.A. middle school's record
A national teachers union leader joined faculty at a Los Angeles middle school Friday to criticize a major school-improvement initiative within the L.A. Unified School District.
Can new No Child Left Behind law pass before 2012 elections?
Everyone agrees that No Child Left Behind should be reauthorized. But agreement on what a revised bill would look like has so far proved an unreachable hurdle.
Diamond Bar students use iPads
Pencil to paper may soon be a thing of the past for students. And if that's the case, some sixth-grade students at Pantera Elementary School are getting a head start.
Aspire Public Schools becomes largest charter organization in state
The Oakland-based charter organization also becomes one of the first California-based charter organizations to surpass 10,000 students, a news release said. Aspire is one of the nation’s five largest charter management organizations.
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It’s Not All About Poor Kids
Education reform has really focused on improving the quality of education for our most disadvantaged students. This focus is not entirely without reason, since large, urban school districts serving low-income students are clearly dysfunctional.
What if the NFL Played by Teachers' Rules?
Imagine a league where players who make it through three seasons could never be cut from the roster.
Steve Jobs on Education
In addition to embodying the spirit of “The Al,” Jobs had quite a lot of smart things to say about education reform.
California’s School-Choice Law
California has produced some interesting laws over the years, many of them by referendum; but it is still surprising that, last year, the state legislature passed America’s most powerful school-choice law, giving parents the ability to seize control of schools from teachers’ unions.
Joseph E. Sullivan, M.D.: California teachers need to be permitted to give life-saving medicine
We should never let politics or bureaucratic red tape get in the way of saving a child's life. But that's what opponents of Senate Bill 161 are doing in asking California Gov. Jerry Brown to veto this bill.
(Editor’s note: this bill has since been signed by the governor)
I could tell from the start that my experience at a highly ranked education school would be vastly different from my undergraduate experience as a foreign-language major at an Ivy League university. I took four classes the first semester, all of which were taught by adjuncts, only one of whom seemed to have a firm grasp on how to conduct a graduate-level course.
Dead last in digital ed
California is a backwater for K-12 online learning, according to a new analysis of states’ policies toward virtual education. Other states are clearing away obstacles and adopting innovative strategies, such as allowing middle school students to take high school courses online and letting students start online courses anytime and complete them whenever they show competency. California is stuck in the past, imposing the standard calendar and student-teacher ratios on a virtual world.
Senate Committee on Track to Make No Child Left Behind Even Worse
If you think No Child Left Behind (NCLB) isn’t working, what Senators Tom Harkin (D–IA) and Mike Enzi (R–WY) have in mind for the nation’s schools is only going to make things worse.
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