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
California Budget: Government Style Arithmetic
Governor Brown has released his budget proposal and, as expected, relies heavily on tax increases proposed in a ballot initiative to be considered by voters in November. So how does the budget treat education funding? Of the $7 billion in new taxes, only about $2.5 billion is dedicated to education. Revenues dedicated to education, however, are expected to increase by $2 billion “on the natural,” as the economy slowly recovers. So the governor’s tax increases would currently have a minimal effect on education but would still be a severe hit to California’s economy.
Though the tax increase gives little to education, what is not repeated enough is that 97% of the trigger–cuts are targeted on education should the taxes not pass. This tactic holds a gun to the head of voters.
Visualizing School Spending
Using data gathered by California Watch, I created a scatter graph of school district spending versus student performance. If there is a connection between the two factors–in other words if more spending as a rule results in better student performance–there should be some kind of correlating line beginning in the lower left quadrant and ending in the upper right quadrant. But results do not show even a faint line from left to right. The dots are fairly random and it is difficult—if not impossible—to see a relationship between these two factors.
In their Getting Down to Facts study (Pg.7), Stanford University crafted a similar graph using data from about 5 years ago and found very similar results.
In a previous Huff Chalkboard issue I shared a different graph to make a similar point on the federal level. Click here to view this graph.
Two-year Long Study Looks at Teacher Quality
Among many of its findings is that our current system of measuring teacher quality by years of experience and instead of comprehensive evaluations “are poor predictors of effectiveness in the classroom.” The Education Trust West states that that “a high-quality evaluation system must consist of multiple measures, including classroom observations, examination of student work, and student assessment data.”
Click here to review the new study and its highlights.
No Child Left Behind Waivers
In November I wrote on the merits of the federal No Child Left Behind waivers. A representative from the federal department of education came before the California State Board of Education to urge them to apply for the flexibility waiver. The Board ordered their staff to at least begin preparing an application for the waiver in case they decide to apply in the next round. So there is still an opportunity for the state to achieve the flexibility waiver.
My weekly “Capitol Comment” video can be seen here, which I briefly discuss presenting SB 172—concerning Open Enrollment—before the Senate Education Committee.
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A Word On Education From Senator Huff
Giving Education Back to the People
State Republican lawmakers don’t see eye to eye with Governor Brown–especially when it comes to closing the seemingly endless burgeoning of the state budget. But with a number of his proposals related to education, there are opportunities for bipartisan solutions.
In his State of the State address, the governor highlighted local control in education, or as he put it, “give more authority to local school districts to fashion the kind of programs they see their students need” and leaving “the real work to those closest to the students.”
My Republican colleagues and I have vociferously encouraged those on the other side of the aisle to heed this kind of advice when it comes to both education and local government. Just last year, I spoke on the floor of the Senate as my colleagues passed legislation to decree how local municipalities should operate their libraries. I also spoke against legislation which removed control of local budgets from school districts. It is these kinds of policies, one bill at a time, year after year, that has incrementally put the public sphere–especially education–in Sacramento’s control instead of distributed among local communities.
While the governor supported these problematic bills, if we are to take the rhetoric from his State of the State speech seriously, it appears he may have overturned his opinion on such matters.
For years, Republicans have introduced legislation to decentralize education, attempting to take power away from Sacramento and give it those closest to parents and students. I have introduced legislation to repeal an archaic ban on contracting out for non-instructional services in schools. Current law forbids schools from contracting with local businesses for grounds keeping or food services which would save schools millions. I have tried to repeal laws that control school districts’ ability to decide what teachers will have the privilege to stand in front of our children and teach them. None of these measures made it to the governor’s desk alive.
We likely will not see an about face on local control from my Democratic colleagues in the Legislature but it is refreshing to see the governor arrive at this position. It is finally sinking in that state bureaucracies can no longer play school board. We have school boards–and the electorally accountable representatives who occupy them–for a reason.
Even the school districts themselves have become centralized conglomerates. In the 1950s, the United States had 55,000 school districts (going back to the 1920s there were 150,000 districts with far fewer students in the system). They were mostly small districts where school board members knew the students and parents by name. Today the country has fewer than 15,000 school districts. We now have enormous centralized regions governing our schools, some with as much as a million students—a population larger than some states. But while the size of school districts have grown, the quality of education has sadly diminished.
Breaking up school districts would certainly be a challenging task and may not even be the ultimate answer, but the transfer of decision making on education matters from political figures in Sacramento to community leaders, school boards, principals, teachers and most importantly parents is a large step forward.
So while the governor and I differ on how to address many of California’s challenges, the move toward local control is refreshing and I look forward to working with him to bring education back to the people.
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Bill would relabel “low–achieving” schools as ‘open enrollment’
Senate has unanimously approved legislation that would relabel “low–achieving” schools as “open enrollment” schools. The bill now moves to the state Assembly.
Mandarin immersion program flourishes at L.A. school
Broadway Elementary in Venice launched the effort to boost enrollment. The plan worked so well the principal is concerned that dual–language learners will outnumber students in regular classes.
Legislative Analyst: Jerry Brown tax raises only $4.8 billion
The state’s top fiscal analyst says Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax hike would raise $2.1 billion less than he is banking on to balance his new budget, requiring deeper cuts than the governor proposed or more revenues if lawmakers use that estimate.
Parents Rebel Against School
Fed-up parents of students attending a low–performing school in Southern California aim to use the power given to them by the state to take an unusual step: fire the school.
Schools prepare for national standards
Maryland and D.C. school officials have agreed to national academic standards and have begun to lay the groundwork for new tests and teacher training. But it will take at least a few years before such measures generate notable change in classrooms.
State Board, CDE at odds on charter Share
Unanimously voting to disregard the recommendation of Department of Education staff, the State Board of Education last week granted Rocketship Education a charter in San Francisco, Rocketship’s first school outside of Santa Clara County.
LAUSD program gives students alternative way to graduate
Known as Alternative Education and Work Center or AEWC, the recovery program allows students who are behind on credits–and more likely to drop out–to catch up on classes at their own pace and work toward their high school diploma.
El Monte Union High School District’s new headquarters nears completion
Employees are expected to move into the El Monte Union High School District’s brand new headquarters by February, according to officials.
Rowland High planning new pool in Rowland Heights
Rowland High School is looking for your input. It wants to build a new $2.5 million swimming pool.
Rowland Unified administrators gain new perspective on education from China trip
Three administrators in Rowland Unified face the new year with a fresh perspective on public education.
Adelanto parents pull ‘trigger’ to upgrade school
Cecelia Thornton sets up a makeshift classroom at her kitchen table every day after school to tutor her grandchildren in reading and writing with materials she buys at the local thrift store in the Mojave Desert town of Adelanto.
Citing Costs, Poor Service, Charters Ditch District Special Ed
Some principals say the teachers they received from the district were subpar, and that they jumped ship to ensure quality education for their students. Others say the move was all about independence: They wanted the freedom to hire teachers who believe in their school’s philosophy, and who aren’t tied to set working hours or conditions by union contracts.
Juvenile courts will dismiss $250 curfew tickets for tardy students
Truancy citations issued to thousands of students who were simply late for class will be dismissed under new guidelines released by the presiding judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court.
L.A. Unified approves resolution to look at removing school enrollment boundaries
Amid some debate, LAUSD board members approved a resolution today to officially study its school enrollment boundaries and the possibility of removing or adjusting them.
Higher taxes, little relief
Districts unenthusiastic about Brown’s tax plan.
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Merit Pay International
Countries with performance pay for teachers score higher on PISA tests.
Why Rocketship Will, Must Work
In my 38 years in public education, I never witnessed as consequential a vote as was taken on Dec. 14 and the early morning hours of Dec. 15. The Santa Clara County Office of Education Board, on a very controversial 5–2 and 4–3 vote, approved 20 new Rocketship Education charter schools in Silicon Valley.
‘Self-esteem’ takes a few hard knocks
People of a certain age will recall the only–in–California New Age self-esteem movement championed by then Assemblyman John Vasconcellos and lampooned in the Doonesbury comic strip. If only children had better self-esteem, people would be saved from lives of poverty, ignorance, misery and crime, or so the caricature went.
Policies Should Reflect the Importance of Teaching
I always knew our teachers were undervalued for the critical work they do, but nothing made that more apparent than the front page of The New York Times the other day. The paper reported on a groundbreaking study that found teachers have a far more lasting and wide–ranging effect on students than most people ever realized.
Unions and the Public Interest
Jay P. Greene and Richard D. Kahlenberg debate the issue.
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