Saturday, December 19, 2009


by John Fensterwald in The Educated Guess

December 17th, 2009 -- Removing the annual cap on charter schools is out; giving parents in failing schools the right to transfer to  another district is in. And so is a public commission, with plenty of teachers on it, to review proposed changes to state academic standards.

In the latest twist in a battle of wills and education lobbies, the Senate yesterday passed a new version of Race to the Top legislation – SBX5-4 – and sent it to the Assembly. It’s not a done deal, but the bill followed intense negotiations involving aides for Gov. Schwarzenegger, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speak Karen Bass. Bass, in a statement, said “we have resolved all of the essential issues.’’ And the Legislature knows it has all but run out of time, with the state application for a piece of the $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition due Jan. 19.

That’s not to say the Assembly next week won’t stick in amendments that could queer the deal. Bass noted that there remains disagreement on issues “not directly related to Race to the Top.”

That’s code for parental choice.

Last week, the Assembly Education Committee defeated the original Senate bill, pushed by Schwarzenegger and Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles,  that would have given parents in low-performing schools the right of out-of-district transfer – a big change in state education policy. Also, if  50 percent of parents in a low-performing school or feeder schools signed a petition,  school trustees would have been forced to take dramatic action to turn the school around, such as hiring a new principal and staff or inviting in a charter school operator.

But what may have seemed radical two weeks ago gained momentum when parent groups in Los Angeles massed behind it as a civil rights issue. And the state could argue that parental choice could enhance a Race to  the Top application, even though it’s not explicitly tied to federal guidelines.

The compromise in SBX5-4: The parents’ petition provision will be limited to 75 schools, still a significant number, and the right of transfer will be limited to parents in the low-achieving 10 percent of schools. A representative of Los Angeles Unified testified in favor of the bill – much to my surprise.

The fight over charters

The importance of lifting the cap on charters, for additional application points, has been overstated. There are currently under 900 charter schools; the cap is 1,350 and grows 100 per year. The feds know California is charter-friendly.

The Assembly bill – ABX5-8,  sponsored by Education Committee Chairwoman Julia Brownley, lifted the cap but, in its earlier versions, included some potentially meddlesome language restricting charter growth. But differences have narrowed, so it became a battle over who has authority to regulate charters: the Legislature or the state Board of Education, appointed by the governor.

Compressed deadline for common-core standards

California and other states have been prodded by Race to the Top rules to join a hasty process to adopt national standards in math and English. The bill would commit the state to adopt, by late summer, 85 percent of the common core standards yet to be developed by National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Critics fear that the result will lower California’s academic standards.

Creating  an Academic Content Standards Commission, appointed by the Senate, Assembly and governor, would at least provide some oversight and an ability for the public to be heard.

SBX5-4 also requires establishing alternative training programs for aspiring teachers in science, math and technology, along with career academics – a move particularly advocated by business leaders in Silicon Valley.

●●smf's 2¢: It seems to me that if the bill fails to eliminate the cap on charter schools -- it fails to meet the requirements of RttT.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     As the bill is an attempt to qualify California  for RttT – that is the sole reason the governor called this special session of the lege -and it fails that test  -s o  it becomes doubly and egregiously disagreeable.

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