Monday, December 21, 2009

TWO VIEWS OF RACE TO THE TOP FROM THE BAY AREA: “Threatens standards” or “on course to ‘win’”?

"Race to top" bill may threaten Palo Alto education standards

by Sophie Cornfield in the Paly Voice, the voice of online journalism at Palo Alto High School.

  • Ms. Cornfield, PAHS class of 2010, is the Managing Editor/News Editor of the Paly Voice

December 16, 2009The standard of education in Palo Alto public school may be threatened in a bill being considered in California legislature. Taken up in the State Assembly on Dec. 9, two versions of "Race to the Top" propose various changes to the California public school system. This emergency education bill would help California secure a much-needed $4.35 billion from the Federal government's "Race to the Top" funds. Among the most controversial potential changes is the Senate's proposal to require open enrollment in all California school districts. This means that, if there is capacity, districts must accept students from other districts.

"It is possible that someone might say that Palo Alto has capacity," said Lauren Janov, advocacy chair for the Parent Teacher Association. "That could mean more students coming from nearby school districts and take with them the money from their struggling school districts." The State Assembly's version of the bill does not contain this provision. Therefore, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has threatened to veto this verison if it makes it to his desk. Regardless, the Senate has chosen to carry-on with its draft.

Yet another controversial provision, endorsed by Schwarzenegger, is the Common Core State Standards Initiatives in which California and other states would join together to create educational requirements. Because California's education requirements are among the highest in the nation, California's schools would be beholden to lower standards. Potentially, disadvantaged schools could graduate students ineligible for the University of California. These bills are expected to go before the Senate on Jan. 17.


Opinion: California's effort to secure Race to the Top funds is on track

By Karen Bass | Special to the San Jose Mercury News

  • Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, is the outgoiung Speaker of the California Assembly

12/18/2009  -- The state Assembly and Senate are actively negotiating legislation so California can compete for, and win, our share of $4.3 billion in federal Race to the Top funds. More important, we are developing comprehensive, long-term education reforms.

Critics of our effort would do well to see the eventual compromise before racing to conclusions. One premature critic, Margaret Fortune, an appointee of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, wrote a Mercury News op-ed (Opinion, Dec. 16) that mischaracterized issues surrounding the Race to the Top debate and wrongly asserted minority children would be harmed by Assembly proposals. That article ignored the process and the progress of the negotiations, and simply propped up a bill the governor wants that was written before the Race to the Top rules were developed and which would hobble us in the competition.

So where are the negotiations? We are advancing higher standards for math and language, evaluations for principals, tools for teachers at low-performing schools, and increased intervention for consistently troubled schools. These steps will improve the quality of education for minority and all children, and are key to meeting Race to the Top guidelines.

A troubling aspect of some opposition is special interests who are not minorities using the needs of minority children and the real concerns of minority parents and community leaders as fronts to promote their own business benefit or political ideology.

Minority students would particularly benefit from two provisions the Assembly has added to the discussions: The fact we want to give more money to local districts (the plan by the governor and his allies allowed the state to keep half) and our proposals making it easier to fire bad teachers and replace up to 50 percent of teachers in the lowest-performing schools. Teachers unions may not like these provisions, but we will not let that derail reform.

What could derail reform — and cost us Race to the Top — is unfounded opposition.

I, and my colleagues in the Assembly, support charter schools. We know good charter schools can play a key role in improving education. We also know, as in any enterprise, there can be bad apples. To qualify for Race to the Top, we have to ensure we have high-performing charter schools.

That's why we are discussing basic accountability to ensure high student achievement and fiscal responsibility in charter schools, especially for-profit ones:

  • Permitting districts to consider track records of charter school operators in deciding whether to grant them a new charter. Districts are currently prohibited from doing so.
  • Requiring charter school auditors to have the same qualifications as school district auditors. Currently, anyone can perform a charter school audit.
  • Requiring charter schools to demonstrate minimal improvement in student performance in the past three years before having their charter renewed.

    Another key point in Race to the Top discussions is parental empowerment. We all want more parental empowerment and involvement — as a community organizer that's my second nature — but we have to do it right and look at all the implications, including those for minority students outside urban areas. I favor, and am confident the final legislation will reflect, a parental empowerment plan that helps and protects all our kids.

    Things are moving fast in negotiations, and there may well be further changes and updates at any time. Given the negotiations, I'm optimistic the Legislature will pass and the governor will sign a strong bill that will put California on the path to win Race to the Top funding. The real prize, of course, will be better education and more opportunity for minority students and all California students.

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