Sunday, January 16, 2011

THE OLD IN + OUT: New CA Board of Ed President attacks Critics + Old CA Board of Ed V.P. attacks Dept of Ed & the Legislature

Kirst: Critics of State Board are off-base + Jerry Brown tells why he is a 'reformed reformer'

By John Fensterwald - Educated Guess |

1/14/11 •State Board of Education President Michael Kirst says he and his new colleagues on the Board already have gotten a bad rap. According to Kirst, defenders of the seven Board members whom Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t reappoint have dismissed new members as opponents of education reform and ready to launch a “war on charter schools.” Both assumptions aren’t true, he says.

Critics, he said in an interview in Sacramento after his first Board meeting this week, are defining reform in terms of a “specific set of interventions.” (He doesn’t cite the parent-trigger law, but that’s obviously one.) Those, he said, don’t involve all of the state’s children. He wants to affect the 6.2 million K-12 students and 330,000 teachers. Kirst worked with Brown on the governor’s education platform. That document put teacher and principal training as a priority, along with taking a hard look at the state’s standardized tests.

Kirst indicated the Board would view policies in light of declining revenues for education. They might consider decentralizing regulatory  functions in Sacramento, shifting them to county offices, giving districts more autonomy, and streamlining layers of accountability.

As for charter schools, Kirst said, “I support  charter public schools; I have for years. I know other Board members have. The fact that we’re not (making) charter schools major and sole focus, as some people want us to be, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to see charters as a vital and innovative part of California’s education future.”

To view the full interview, go here.

Jerry Brown stops by to address Board

Brown, who started two charter schools in Oakland, has characterized himself as a “reformed reformer” – a term he used again Thursday when he stopped by the Board’s information session to speak to the seven new members he appointed.

“I am a little wary of reform sometimes,” Brown said in off-the-cuff comments that you can see here. “Everything that people propose they call it reform. Some change is good, and some change in not thought out. I don’t expect a silver bullet. I see a lot of fashion in education.”

Brown, who is asking voters to extend $8 billion in temporary taxes to avoid cutting K-12 budgets, said he learned a lesson starting and sustaining the Oakland Military Institute and the Oakland School for the Arts. “I really do get the idea that money is very important. I don’t know how we would get through if we (the charter schools) didn’t raise the millions of dollars that we do,” he said.

Brown has called for a hard look at whether accountability – too much attention to standardized tests and data – has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, with less attention to arts, social sciences, and his own priority, character formation.

He expressed ambivalence in his remarks to the Board. On the one hand, he says he keeps hammering the military charter school, with its 735 API, to reach the state target of 800. And he used standardized test results to question why teachers were giving A’s to students who were “below basic” on state tests.

At the same time, he said, teachers’ impacts on students are intangible and critical. Love of learning cannot be measured by just mastering a test. “The role of a teacher and the relationship with students is more than something that can be rationalized into various data streams.”

Data, standards and curriculum are all important, Brown said, but “I hope we can keep the humanistic aspect of education as well as the market concepts of readiness to go into the world of work and readiness to go onto higher education.”

These are words many teachers have been waiting to hear.


RUTH BLOOM’s SWIPE ON THE WAY OUT: State Board member cites turf battles

By John Fensterwald - Educated Guess |

1/13/11 • Saying she is “a bit disheartened” after seven years on the State Board of Education, Board Vice President Ruth Bloom exited this week with stinging criticism of the Department of Education and the Legislature and strong advice to her successors.

“The reality is, is that there is no cooperation among the various fiefdoms in Sacramento,” she said in prepared remarks at the start of the State Board meeting Wednesday.  “…the Legislature doesn’t want anything to do with the Board of Education except to encourage us to pass a pet project, or to make the regulations (written by the mostly arrogant staff of the Department of Education when it comes to consulting with the staff of the Board).”

Bloom, a former arts teacher from Los Angeles, was not reappointed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Her second term ends on Saturday.

Bloom’s comments reflect continuing tensions between the appointed State Board and a State Department of Education run by an elected state Superintendent of Public Instruction and managed by civil servants. Newly elected Board President Michael Kirst, in his opening reflections, indicated that he would seek a positive working arrangement between the Board and the Department under newly elected State Superintendent Tom Torlakson. (See HERE for a short video interview of  Kirst on this issue.)

Bloom called for more transparency in dealings with the Department, which she chided for providing information to the Board reluctantly and often late. She also offered advice to new Board members: continue to pursue innovation and don’t cave to “special interests” and expediency. “Charters and reforms are not the Devil, the Devil is putting one’s head in the sand and operating on autopilot,” she said.

Good sentiments, for the most part. But why wait seven years, on the last day in office, to say them?

Bloom’s full comments, minus the individual thank-yous to Board members she worked with, are as follows:

I want to take this time to thank all of the school board members that I have had the opportunity to work with in the last 7 years. All of them came from all over the state to serve the children and the future of California. I may not have agreed with all their points of view but I respect the differences that brought us all to the same place of service.

This week is the last week of the two terms as a state of California school board member that I have served. I have served my state and our children with all of my educational expertise both as a former teacher, parenting specialist, policy expert, and as a parent. After seven years, I come away a bit disheartened.

I thought when Gov. Schwarzenegger appointed me that I could make great changes and leave a legacy for future generations. I only wish that my naiveté could have been left in Los Angeles when I would board Southwest Airlines to go to Sacramento to attend meetings and make policy. The reality is, is that there is no cooperation among the various fiefdoms in Sacramento. Oh, there is a semblance of civility but the reality is that the Legislature doesn’t want anything to do with the Board of Education except to encourage us to pass a pet project, or to make the regulations (written by the mostly arrogant staff of the Department of Education when it comes to consulting with the staff of the Board).

The Board of Education has had at least five executive directors in the past seven years. The difficulty of working with the Department has caused many, not all, to leave the position.

Board members would get information only if they pressed the Department and not always then. Sometimes it would only arrive in a report in an open meeting when Board members would have to decipher and decide on formulas so complex that they reminded me of high school algebra!

Gov. Brown has an opportunity to make changes and have transparency as a goal. Getting rid of the office of the Secretary of Education is a good thing, because that position has no power and actually after having five of them in that position in the last five years most found that they could not make a difference either. A straight line to the new Board will allow the governor to make his ideas known and perhaps acted upon.

So what has to be done? First of all, the responsibility for educating our children rests with the policy makers, the teachers, and the parents. No longer should fingers be pointed. Working together is the only way we can finish this century as leaders.

Thinking negatively only polarizes the various parties.

We need to revamp the school day. It is absurd that we are on a 9 to 2 or a 9 to 3 schedule when most families have no one at home in the afternoon to provide a proper learning environment for their children.

We need a longer school year as well. How shocking is that statement when many districts are considering shortening the school year to deal with budget shortfalls.

There is an opportunity to totally revamp education and schools in this state because of the shortfall.

If we have laid off 30,000 teachers in this state as well as thousands of support staff why are we not considering a new paradigm instead of doing less of what we are not doing successfully?

Use our teachers more imaginatively; if one teacher is great in math, let him or her teach all the kids math on one day.

Do these changes affect our staff and our costs? Absolutely!! However, as a one time, short time union member in Los Angeles Unified school district, the job of teacher is not about hours but about what we do! No one becomes a teacher to earn a living in the shortest time possible. You cannot work with children five hours a day, five days a week and not see what a responsibility you bear.

School districts and county school offices bear responsibility as well. In their desires to protect their fiefdoms, many districts and county offices are stopping any innovation in their communities.

Why should the state be managing charter schools and charter districts? They do not have the opportunity to visit often nor the staff and the monies to do the job of the local communities. We can no longer put our heads in the sand and say charters are no good, innovation means nothing, and computerized learning is to be feared. Bring it on! We need to innovate, we need to change the way kids can approach learning, not only because we are going to have teacher shortages in the next decade but because kids are not engaged and are bored! Try watching a year-old baby grab for a phone or push buttons on a TV remote. They get results! Gov. Schwarzenegger had it right when he pushed for online texts. We are smart in America, and so are our companies and publishers; they will figure a way to make a profit even if there is no hard copy book. Meanwhile we cannot have delays in newly accepted texts because districts cannot afford to buy the books or train the teachers to use them! We have schools using texts approved in the late ’90s!

Parent trigger, parental choice is important but more importantly, we need parents welcomed at schools and not looked at as the enemy. We need to open our schools to the communities they serve and not be afraid of involvement. We should not be fighting each other, but fighting together for the future of our children, our country.

I commend the new governor’s choices for school board members. However, you must remember that your first responsibility is to the children of California; not to the governor, not to the Legislature, not to the Department of Education and not to the teachers, and certainly not to special interests. You will be bombarded with materials, and be asked for approval on issues you are unfamiliar with. Do not let your belief in free education for all be pushed aside for expediency. If you need more information, ask for it. Charters and reforms are not the Devil, the Devil is putting one’s head in the sand and operating on autopilot.

Good luck!

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