California set to pass education overhaul planh/t JH
Marisa Lagos, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
The California Legislature is poised to pass an education plan today that makes far-reaching changes to how public schools are governed, giving parents the power to transfer their kids out of failing schools and to force districts to overhaul bad schools.
The dramatic changes to California's education policies have been debated for months. They are intended to make the state competitive for up to $700 million in federal dollars under President Obama's $4.3 billion Race to the Top program, which promises funding to states that embrace education policies outlined by the president by a Jan. 19 application deadline. Millions more dollars may also be at stake for the financially struggling state, as the Obama administration is expected to tie future education funding to some of his Race to the Top provisions.
The most controversial elements of the plan being voted on today by both houses of the Legislature include the so-called open enrollment and parent trigger provisions, which were championed by a number of parents groups and charter school advocates but opposed by many in the education establishment, including the state's powerful teachers' union.
Under current state law, students must attend a school in the district where they live, with some exceptions. The open enrollment legislation would allow students in the 1,000 worst schools in California - as defined by their Academic Performance Index ranking - to apply to a better school anywhere in the state, including in the same district. School districts must adopt standards for accepting or rejecting transfers under this new open enrollment policy.
The parent trigger provision would allow parents to force school districts to deal with chronically failing schools by adopting one of several "reform" plans put forth by the Obama administration, including closing the school, firing the principal and up to half of the teachers, or turning the school into a charter school. At least 50 percent of parents would have to petition for the change.
"We think the parent trigger especially is critically important - it's not just a new policy, it's a paradigm shift, a different way of thinking about education reform," said Ben Austin, who founded the Los Angeles-based parent advocacy group Parent Revolution. "This is not about anything other than giving parents power and trusting them to do right by their kids. The system is failing ... because it's not designed to serve kids, it's designed to serve grown-ups."
Parents aren't the only ones who would be able to force a change: Under the legislation, the state's worst schools would have to embrace one of those strategies as well. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said Monday that about 800 of the state's nearly 1,700 local districts and charter schools have indicated their intent to participate in Race to the Top.
Districts that participate agree to open up all their schools to the rules; districts that choose not to participate are still subject to the rules for their low-performing schools.
The new legislation would also make a number of other changes to help bring California in line with the federal goals. The state would create a system to track students from elementary school through college to determine what is working, make a new program for credentialing math and science teachers, and allow local school districts to use test scores and other data to evaluate teachers and principals.
Delayed by politics
"These and other reforms clearly set the stage for the governor to submit a competitive application for California to bring home a coveted Race to the Top grant," Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Baldwin Vista (Los Angeles County), said Monday.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special session of the Legislature in August to bring California in line with the requirements outlined by the Race to the Top. But the changes have been mired in politics, with Assembly Democrats supporting limited changes backed by the teacher's union and others. The governor threatened to veto an earlier bill by the Assembly that he said omitted the open-enrollment rule, and negotiations dragged on through December. This week, officials ultimately decided to break the open enrollment and parent trigger provisions into a separate bill from the rest of the proposed changes, though both bills are expected to pass today.
E-mail Marisa Lagos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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