Sunday, November 04, 2007

EDUCATION REPORT CAN'T HELP UNTIL IT'S PUBLIC: Begin School Reform Debate With Openness

San Jose Mercury News Editorial

October 31, 2007: Policy studies on California education reform have been piling up in Sacramento like unclaimed luggage on an airport carousel.

There are last spring's 23 "Getting Down to Facts" studies, a mammoth 1,700 page analysis of education governance and finance commissioned by Hewlett and three other foundations. Add 47 more reports (shorter, thankfully) that were released earlier this month at a conference in Sacramento.

ut the one that's most anticipated is still under wraps. In one of the worst-kept secrets in the capital, the recommendations of the Governor's Advisory Committee on Education Excellence, an intense product of two years of work, have been in Gov. Schwarzenegger's office for more than a month. It's time for Schwarzenegger to release the report so public debate can begin.

Schwarzenegger has vowed to make 2008 the "Year of Education Reform." It's a bold promise, since the governor knows that reform proposals would face almost as many obstacles as his so-far unsuccessful drive for health care reform. For education, he'll have to make it past a fusillade of resistance from interest groups: employee unions, districts benefiting from irrational funding formulas and legislators protecting favorite programs. And the governor will face funding issues because he made the reform promise before the state projected an $8 billion budget deficit next year.

Nonetheless, to meet the high expectations that he has created, Schwarzenegger will
need popular will. To get it, he should immediately encourage grass-roots discussions that include parents.

The 47 policy briefs are a starting point. Produced by researchers and advocacy groups like Education Trust-West and the California Teachers Association, they propose various solutions to governance, school finance, teacher and administrator development and the achievement gap. Many call for more school spending. (Read them at But it's the report of the Committee on Education Excellence that can shift the discussion into the next gear.

Schwarzenegger appointed a savvy and diverse committee whose members were charged with reaching a consensus on systemic reforms. Committee chairman Ted Mitchell, a state school board member and the former president of Occidental College, won't say what's in the report. But the committee has been seriously considering some provocative ideas. They include switching to a weighted student funding formula (proportionately more money per capita for low-income and English learners); shifting control over spending away from Sacramento (ending rigidly funded "categorical grants"); and adopting a data system that tracks individual students' and teachers' performance over time.

The recommendations, along with the governor's own ideas and those that will emerge from state Superintendent Jack O'Connell's achievement gap summit next month, deserve to be hashed out openly and widely. There needs to be a statewide discussion, preceding any reforms, on just what it is Californians want schools to provide and students to learn.

A back-room deal with legislators and interest groups tied to the status quo won't yield worthwhile reforms. Schwarzenegger will need public leverage for that.

Time is wasting. Release the report.

Click to read more about the Excellence Committee:

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