Archives for category: California

More than 50% of the junior class at Palo Alto High School did not take the Smarter Balanced Assessment. It is hard to know whether the high test refusal at Palo Alto High School was a genuine opt out or just smart kids who knew that the Smarter Balanced Assessment didn’t count for anything. California has a law permitting students to opt out of testing if their parent signs a simple form.

Officials at the school said that next year they hoped everyone would take the test because it will affect the school’s state rating.

[In response to many comments by teachers in California who insist that the state is NOT on the right track, I have revised the title, turning it into a question, not a judgment.]


Jeff Bryant, one of the nation’s most sensible commentators in education, describes the chaos that NCLB and Race to the Top have unleashed on schools. Matters have been made worse by battles over Commin Core and the reaction against Common Core testing.


One state, he says, seems to be navigating these treacherous waters: California, thus far with minimal turmoil.


Bryant interviews veteran educator and former state superintendent Bill Honig about California’s path. (Note: Bill has been a good friend of mine since the mid-1980s, when he invited me to participate in rewriting the state’s history-social sciences curriculum, a document that remains in use).


Bryant writes:


“Instead of taking massive budget cuts to public schools, California is flowing more money into schools and has taken steps to ensure school funding is more equitable. Instead of tormenting teachers with shoddy evaluations, many California school principals are resisting the policy of using standardized test scores to judge teacher performance. And the state recently refused to include a teacher evaluation system based on student test scores in its application for a waiver from the mandates of No Child Left Behind laws.” 


Note that California has not started Common Core testing, nor the punitive consequences that follow. Those events seem to ignite both parent and teacher reactions, and they are seldom if ever positive.


Here is a portion of Bryant’s interview with Honig:


Bryant: For quite some time, most federal and state education policy has been dominated by what’s often called a “reform” agenda. Anyone opposed to that is accused of supporting the “status quo.” How do you see the debate?


Honig: That accusation is a transparent debating ploy. People opposed to the “reforms” understand the need to improve our schools but contend that the high-stakes, test-driven accountability measures being advocated haven’t worked. What currently passes for “reform” has caused considerable collateral damage to schools and teachers. There are better alternatives that are based on a huge amount of research, scholarship, and evidence from schools and districts. Why “reformers” don’t look at these other models as exemplars, I don’t know. California has, and the state is taking this alternative path to improve schools that I believe is more promising.


Bryant: What is California doing that is different?


Honig: In 2010 Jerry Brown was elected governor in 2010, Tom Torlakson was elected State Superintendent, and a new State Board of Education was appointed by Brown under the leadership of Michael Kirst. California’s education policy shifted as it followed a different path from many other states and different from the federal government, especially under U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration. Those policy makers have been pursuing a “Test-and-Punish” policy primarily relying on tests as a way of holding schools and teachers accountable and using threats to pressure schools.
Under Governor Brown, California has adopted an alternative approach which relies much less on testing. The California model believes educators want to do a better job, trusts them to improve if given proper support, and provides local schools and districts the leeway and resources so they can improve. We also put instruction – what goes on in the classroom and the interactions between teachers and students – at the center of our improvement efforts. When you do that, the question becomes, how do you build support and structures to increase the ability and capacity of teachers, not how do you scare them into improving. That’s why we call it a “Build-and-Support” approach.


Bryant: How would you describe a Build-and-Support approach?


Honig: It’s what high-performing districts, states, and countries have done. They’ve built successful teams at the school site that have an ability to continue to improve. They provide support structures and resources to bolster the effort. They put a strong liberal arts curriculum in the center, like the Common Core, which is what we use in California. Teachers visit each other’s classrooms. Teachers and principals in these schools talk to each other about what works and what doesn’t and how to do it better next time. They tap into the vast knowledge of successful teaching approaches that has been developed in recent years. And they use information about student performance to do better. This approach is just like the strategy that industry and professional outfits have followed for years. There’s a tremendous amount of research, scholarship, and experience supporting these policies. They work.


Bryant: What are the advantages a Build-and-Support approach has compared to Test-and-Punish?


Honig: The problem with test-driven reform coupled with punishments is that it causes schools and teachers to spend too much time on test-prep, to narrow the curriculum to just what is tested at the expense of deeper learning, to game the system, and even to cheat. Science, history, humanities, understanding of the world, civic education, and a broad education all suffer. And it reduces cooperation because teachers are made to compete against each other. Fifty years ago, W. Edwards Deming argued that heavy evaluation schemes based on fear don’t produce strong performance boosts. Engagement and team-building do. School districts that have used the Build-and-Support approach have gotten stellar results. Districts primarily following the Test-and-Punish strategy have floundered. This misplaced emphasis on punitive approaches has taken a severe toll on educational morale and performance.”


The school board in Burbank, California, is close to hiring Matthew Hill as its next superintendent. Hill currently works for the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he oversaw two disastrous technology programs: the $1 billion iPad fiasco, which was canceled after disclosure of emails showing possible collusion with Apple and Pearson; and the botched MISIS student tracking system, which left thousands of students without schedules.

Hill has never been a teacher or a principal. He is a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Academy, founded by billionaire Eli Broad. Its graduates are known for an autocratic management style and are taught to bring business methods to schools. Many have been ousted by angry parents.

There will be an informational public session this afternoon with Hill, where the public may ask questions.

A recent poll reported in the Los Angeles Times produced interesting results and a divide between Latino and white voters.


Latino voters support standardized tests, while most white oppose them.


Both groups support public schools (as compared to privately managed schools), but Latino voters support them by larger margins.


A majority of Latino voters, 55%, said mandatory exams improve public education in the state by gauging student progress and providing teachers with vital information. Nearly the same percentage of white voters said such exams are harmful because they force educators to narrow instruction and don’t account for different styles of learning.


None of the voters know that the new Common Core exams provide no information about how a student is progressing other than a score; they offer no diagnostic information whatever so there is nothing that a teacher or parent learns other than how many answers they got right compared to others in the same grade.


Voters were critical of tenure, assuming it means a lifetime job, with whites more critical than Latino and black voters.


Latino and black voters believe that more money should be put into schools in poor neighborhoods to improve them:


Nearly half of voters surveyed said publicly funded, independently run charter schools offer a higher-quality education than traditional public schools. Still, a majority of white voters, 56%, believe the state should invest in improving existing schools instead of spending additional money to create more charters. Minority voters held on to that belief more strongly, with support between 67% and 69%.


Eight out of 10 black and Latino voters said putting more money into schools in economically or socially disadvantaged areas would improve the quality of public education somewhat or a lot, compared with 68% of white voters.


The article includes an interview with Dan Schnur of the University of Southern California, brother of Jon Schnur, the architect of Race to the Top. USC conducted the poll.



In an article funded by the Walton Family Foundation, Education Week sums up the sad history of the “parent trigger” law. Clearly, the writer struggles to show the accomplishments of the law, but it is hard to hide its failings.

Two people–Gloria Romero (former state senator in California, former director of Wall Street-backed Democrats for Education Reform in California) says she wrote the law. Ben Austin, former leader of Parent Revolution, says he wrote the law.

The Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and other foundations poured millions into Parent Revolution, hoping that parents would vote to turn their public schools over to charter operators.

At the end of the day, five years later, here is the scorecard: six states passed similar parent trigger laws. “So far, nationally, only one school, Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., has been transformed into a charter while another six schools in the state have used the parent-trigger law in some way to secure changes on their campuses.”

Only one school turned charter, and that happened only after a bitter fight among parents. Parents who did not sign the parent trigger petition were not allowed to vote in choosing a charter. Ultimately only 53 out of 600 parents selected the charter operator to take control of their public school.

Some reform.

California has embraced the Common Core standards and the SBA tests for the Common Core, but it has made an important decision: Not to use the test scores for high-stakes. California’s education leaders–namely, state Commissioner Tom Torlakson–once again demonstrate that they have more common sense than any other state that has submitted to federal dictates.


The State Board of Education unanimously voted to suspend for a year the Academic Performance Index, which is based on standardized test scores and widely used to evaluate a school’s performance in boosting academic achievement. Since the state is rolling out new tests this year, board members said they wanted at least two years of results to judge school progress.


Amid a national backlash against the overuse of test scores, board members also voted to shift from a school quality measure based solely on exam results to one that would include other factors. Possible additions include student attendance, dropout rates, suspensions, English proficiency, access to educational materials and performance in college-level classes.


“We have an opportunity to hit the reset button,” board member Patricia A. Rucker said at the Sacramento meeting…..


The representative for Los Angeles Unified School District said that in a dry run of the tests, one-third of the schools could not connect to the state server.


He also said that the district participated in statewide practice runs of the new tests last year but could not diagnose problems with them because the state did not release results….


In comments at the board meeting, Brian Rivas of the Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based advocacy organization for educational equity, cautioned that any new system must focus on closing achievement gaps among different groups of students.


Sherry Griffith of the Assn. of California School Administrators stressed that district officials and principals would continue to push hard for student improvement, using “every bit of data” from local and state tests.


“This is not about suspending accountability,” she said.


Education Trust is heavily funded by the Gates Foundation. It is hard to understand why EdTrust thinks that using test scores to rank students, teachers, and schools will “close” the achievement gaps. It hasn’t worked anywhere. Tests are a measure, not instruction. Measuring kids more often doesn’t raise their achievement.


Will California officials be surprised to learn that they cannot see the item analysis, they can see only the scores. Exactly how can they improve student performance when the tests provide no diagnostic information for any individual student?



Fresno’s ACEL Charter School will close immediately, due to financial problems. The charter school is $300,000 in debt and can’t get a loan, so it is shutting its doors. It started in 2008.

Students are upset and bewildered. Seniors are two months away from graduation and wondering how they will get a diploma.

“Many of the cash problems are being blamed on the unnamed company the board contracted to monitor its finances. Recently, the massive funding deficit was revealed.”

Charter schools come and go, like other businesses.

An effort to use California’s controversial “parent trigger” law to convert a public school into a privately managed charter school failed in Anaheim.

The law was passed five years ago when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor and the state school board was dominated by charter interests. Although heavily financed by the Waltons and other corporate interests, the “parent trigger” drive has succeeded in seizing control of public schools only twice in five years.

“Parents at the school, located in an overwhelmingly low-income immigrant community, failed to collect valid signatures representing 50% of pupils enrolled, as the law requires, said Supt. Linda Wagner. She said the district found that 133 of 488 petitions were not valid because the students had moved away, could not be found in the district records or were not signed by a parent or legal guardian, among other reasons. The district verified 48.4% of enrolled students.

“But former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who wrote the law and now helps parents improve their schools through her new Center for Parent Empowerment, accused the district of manipulating the numbers. The district rejected 12 petitions because those signed could not be reached “after multiple attempts,” according to documents, but Romero said officials never asked petition organizers to help locate them, as she said state regulations require.”

Romero was previously California director of pro-charter hedge fund managers’ “Democrats for Education Reform.” DFER was denounced by the state as a front for corporate interests.

There is something fundamentally undemocratic about letting this year’s (or last year’s) parents to privatize a community institution, built and paid for by the entire community.

Five districts and the California School Boards Association are suing the state for $1 billion to recover the cost of computers and other technology needed for Common Core testing. They say the state must pay for unfunded mandates. The state says the districts must pay to comply with federal law.

The irony is that Arne Duncan keeps saying that the Common Core was developed by the states and is not a federal program. It is surely not mandated by NCLB.

Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times reports on the vile tactics that the charter lobby is using in hopes of defeating school board incumbent Bennett Kayseri in the approaching election.

The issue of the moment is the unbridled proliferation of charter schools in LA. Kayser has been a charter critic. The California Charter School Association would like to defeat Kayser and replace him with a friend of charters.

CCSA and allies have been handing out a flyer smearing Kayser as an anti-Latino bigot.

Lopez writes:

“The flier essentially calls him a bigot.


“That’s the screaming headline on a vile, two-page missive in Spanish and English, and the flier includes a lovely photograph of five Latino children sitting forlornly on a curb, as if their world has been crushed by the cruel Caucasian board member.

“Kayser condemned the ad, calling it garbage.

“Character assassination and bullying have no place in our school district; these people should be ashamed of themselves,” he said in a statement his staff sent me Thursday evening.”

The charter supporters play rough. And dirty.


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