Schwarzenegger on school standards
Daniel Weintraub, Sacramento, August 27, 2004
Facing increasing criticism like this hinted at broadly in a column by my colleague Peter Schrag, Gov. Schwarzenegger this week held an education summit meeting of sorts to assure his inner circle and, ultimately, the education community and the public that he supports the standards and accountability-based policies he inherited from Govs. Davis and Wilson. Among those present at the meeting were Bonnie Reiss, the governor's senior adviser and a member of the state board of education, Cabinet Secretary Marybel Batjer, Education Secretary Richard Riordan, Legislative Secretary Richard Costigan, state board president Ruth Green, and board members Glee Johnson and Don Fisher.
According to Green, Schwarzenegger at the meeting laid out the following principles as the core of his K-12 education policy:
K-12 education - Fumbling in the governor's office
By Peter Schrag, Sacramento Bee Columnist, August 25, 2004
Running California's huge, three-headed public education system is hard enough under the best of circumstances. But when the state Board of Education, which is supposed to set curricular policy and standards, is in near-revolt against the governor's office, as it was last week, it's time to sound the alarm.
The main target of the revolt is Bonnie Reiss, senior adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the view of board insiders, she has mishandled policy and often disregarded the board, which has been the prime force in establishing and defending California's academic standards and accountability system. Those standards are widely listed as among the best in the nation.
Reiss says everything is fine. She thinks the world of the board, she said. The board, of which she herself is a member, "is fabulous." But in the past two weeks, Rae Belisle, the board's highly regarded executive director, resigned; one of the 10 regular board members is on the verge of submitting her resignation; and several others have privately told close acquaintances that they're mad enough to quit as well. Their main complaint is that under Reiss' influence, the governor is giving up control to groups bent on undermining the state's school standards.
Because the board's angry people include some of the governor's own appointees, and because most are academic centrists or conservatives while Reiss is a West Los Angeles liberal all makes the friction even more embarrassing for the governor.
The disaffected board members have told friends that Reiss, an entertainment lawyer with Kennedy family connections, knows little about education - or about government - and because she has too much on her plate, she doesn't have time to learn. (The governor's education secretary, ex-Mayor Richard Riordan of Los Angeles, another novice on state education policy, is often out of the loop altogether.)
For the frustrated board members, there have already been worrisome consequences. One is a provision in the new state budget specifically exempting some $30 million in textbooks and other new instructional materials for English language learners (ELL) from review by the state Curriculum Commission. It's the kind of policy change that has no business in the budget act.
By itself it's no big deal. But because it opens a loophole in the state's curricular standards and, in the board's view, could easily be the start both of watered-down standards and of curricular resegregation of minority students, it's something that encroaches on its authority and that it very much opposes.
And since two other bills are moving toward the governor's desk that open big gaps in the rules enforcing the state's academic standards, board members worry that Schwarzenegger is undermining his own authority on school policy.
One of those bills, Sen. Martha Escutia's SB 1380, would give the state's 900-plus local districts greatly expanded authority to pick their own materials, subject only to review by the board, something that it has absolutely no capacity to do.
That would create a chaos of materials, many of which would be consistent with state standards in name only. It would also make it nearly impossible for the hundreds of thousands of students who transfer from school to school, sometimes several times a year, to have any curricular consistency whatever. The course and books in every subject could be vastly different in school B from what a student had in school A. And neither might be consistent with the state's standards.
It could also take the state back to the days when superintendents and district textbook committees were wined and dined - and sometimes taken on vacation cruises - by publishers looking for buyers.
It was the odor from that process that helped spur the move to statewide adoptions.
The other bill, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg's AB 2744, would transfer authority for curriculum standards from the state board to the elected state superintendent of public instruction, and thus to the influence of the teachers union and other education lobbies that are the driving influences on who gets elected to that job.
Two years ago, Goldberg, carrying the mail for the California Teachers Association, lost in her attempt to make book selection and much other local education policy subject to collective bargaining. The loophole for ELL materials in this year's budget act and the pending bills echo the spirit of what Goldberg couldn't get then.
There's a perfectly respectable policy argument for giving more authority to local districts and teachers to meet state standards by any means they can. But under the past two governors and after long and bitter experience with chronic academic failure, the state chose to impose relatively tight guidelines on what's taught and with what.
If that's going to be changed, it should be changed consciously, with the full, educated participation of the governor. But now only the gremlins are at work.
Some board leaders are scheduled to meet with the governor today to discuss their grievances.
Reiss says everything is going great. The board members want proof, not Hollywood blather.
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