Friday, March 16, 2007

Three Different Perspectives on "Getting Down to Facts"--A Groundbreaking Report on California's Educational System



By Frank D. Russo

"Getting Down to Facts", over 20 studies examining the adequacy and efficiency of education funding in California and what is needed to prepare all students for success in the global economy of the 21st century, has been released over the last two days. 18 months in preparation, the project that produced this series of reports, convened "an extraordinary array of scholars from 32 institutions with diverse expertise and policy orientations."

These reports were requested by Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata. It was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the Stewart Foundation.

It is going to take some time for the information and perspectives in the hundreds of pages contained in these reports to percolate through California's political system. Arriving just three months before the state budget is required to be adopted, it may not affect this year's spending plans and educational policy, but it will be talked about, and parts will be cited for various propositions by many.

Here are just three statements on the report that have been made. There will be a lot more.

Jack O'Connell, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction

This research is bold, and the findings may make many of us uncomfortable. But let's remember that a decade ago many were uncomfortable when California adopted its high standards and when we built a system of accountability and when we first began to use data to shed light on student achievement. We knew that high standards and accountability were the right steps to take, and this research is the next right step in California education reform. We must use it as our guide to make the changes that are necessary to prepare our students and our state for a successful future.

Quite frankly, many of the findings were obvious to me: We need to find multiple ways of entry into the classroom for new teachers. Our data systems are inadequate. Our system is overly burdensome and regulatory.

But this research in its entirety makes overwhelmingly clear that our next step must not be piecemeal reform. It clearly shows that we need a holistic approach that includes things like: less regulation and greater local flexibility, better focus on recruiting and developing effective teachers and educational leaders, and more school site innovation, along with the clear need for additional resources to offer things like more time and individualized instruction. We simply cannot demand a more efficient system and expect results without also investing in our schools at a level that will enable them to achieve those results.

No matter what our perspective, I think we can all agree that our public school system must be focused on results for students - outcomes, not inputs. Our goal must be a public school system that equips all students with the knowledge and skills to excel in college and careers, and to excel as parents and as citizens.

I requested this research to begin a necessary statewide discussion on what is needed - both in investments and reforms - to reach this goal. The work done by these outstanding scholars gives us a starting point for that discussion. It provides an important blueprint for designing a better system for California's students. Now our work begins."

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Today's studies show that no amount of money will improve our schools without needed education reform. We need to focus on critical school reform before any discussion about more resources. And as I have always said, our schools need more accountability, teachers and administrators need more flexibility, and parents need more information about how their children are performing.

California needs an integrated, transparent system that allows parents, the public, educators and policymakers to access useful information about our schools. The Governor has directed his administration to work with the Legislature, Superintendent of Public Instruction and others to make the School Accountability Report Card parent-friendly and include relevant information so that schools can easily be compared to one another.

Schwarzenegger's office provided the following additional comments:

Over the past decade, the state has invested significant resources to collect an increasing amount of data from school districts. From demographic data of students and teachers to student performance and financial expenditures, California school districts collect extensive data and make over 100 reports to the California Department of Education and other state educational agencies to meet state and federal reporting requirements. Yet currently, there are few useful tools available to easily access this data. The Governor's proposal addresses this shortfall. According to a 2006 poll by Public Opinion Strategies, 92 percent of voters favor "Requiring better and more accessible information so that we can understand where our education tax dollars are being spent.

This past fall, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law SB 1209 and SB 1655 by Senator Jack Scott (D-Altadena) to streamline the teacher credentialing process, improve support and incentives for new and experienced teachers and help low-performing schools hire the best teachers.

Governor Schwarzenegger has kept his commitment to education by ensuring that every student has access to a quality school principal and quality teachers and has invested in restoring music, art and physical education to support a well-rounded education. The Governor's 2007-08 Budget includes $66.3 billion ($40.5 billion General Fund and $25.8 billion other funds) for K-12 education programs. This reflects an increase of $2.8 billion ($495.4 million General Fund and $2.3 billion other funds) or 4.4 percent over the revised 2006-07 budget. The total per-pupil expenditures from all sources are projected to be $11,240 in 2006-07 and $11,584 in 2007-08 - both all-time records for the state.

Furthermore, the budget proposes a number of new one-time and ongoing education initiatives. These proposals, along with the major education investments made by the Administration in the last three years, will continue to address the most pressing needs facing students and parents, including:
• Teacher shortages
• Transparent school-site information
• Career Technical Education
• Low-performing schools
• Preparing students to graduate from high school
• Improving student health

Democratic Senator Tom Torlakson, Former Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus and widely rumored candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2010

As you know, a series of education Adequacy studies has been released.
This body of research provides us with valuable information about what is needed to provide every child in California with a quality public education.

Democratic leaders in the Legislature, the Governor and the Superintendent of Public Instruction asked education experts to provide us with detailed, thoughtful, and comprehensive information about the many challenges facing California’s public education system.

As a public high school teacher, a parent, and a legislator, I want to share my thoughts with you on this important research.

These independent studies focus specifically on the effectiveness of our current education spending and practices.

They highlight a need for more local flexibility, reduced paperwork, and increased focus on students, while at the same time they indicate the necessity to attract, train… and retain great teachers.

The top two questions every policymaker should be asking today are:

How do we target and refocus our current education resources to ensure the best results?

And, How do we develop new financial resources to make our schools the best in the nation?

Overall, I believe the information provided by these studies creates an historic opportunity to take bold action to improve education.

This means investing time, energy, and resources into every aspect of our education system.

We must maintain the integrity of our high standards, while presenting each student with an individual pathway for success.

We can start, by increasing the length of the school day, while, at the same time, raising teacher salaries.

It is also critical, to provide meaningful and cutting edge professional development, as well as ongoing training and planning time for our teachers and administrators.
And, most importantly, we need to offer more applied, hands-on learning opportunities, for all of our students.

The curriculum should engage students, and class choices should open doors, not close them. We must have a pathway to success for every child.

Students need to see the relevance of their courses, and the connection to their future career and higher education opportunities, because a real world context fosters deeper learning and increases knowledge retention.

I welcome your feedback, because by working together, we can once again provide a world class education for all of California’s students.

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