While the big news in California Monday was the adoption of the Common Core standards, making California the 33rd to join, yesterday’s big headline around these parts is that California teachers make the most in the country, despite per-student spending being $2,000 less than average.
Both of those headlines actually tie into the gubernatorial race in California as both issues relate to the platform of at least one of the two major candidates. Originally, I was going to write this as one post, but I decided that would be horrendously long, so I’m going to split this into three. Today, I’ll cover Brown’s platform, tomorrow will be Whitman’s, and Friday, I’ll do my best to compare the two. Before I begin, I want to give a few disclaimers. First, I am a bleeding heart liberal when it comes to social issues. I might even consider myself a pinko socialist. I will do my best not to endorse either candidate. Instead, I intend to write an analysis of each candidate’s policies to help California voters in their decisions. I can’t say I have a lot of hope in persuading people’s votes anyway. Despite most voters claiming education to be one of the most important issues they care about, they rarely make their decisions based upon education issues. If you’re in the small minority that do, more power to ya. Finally, I’m going to base my analysis largely on their platforms. I know this could lead to a flawed idea of what these candidates will actually do, but I’m more in the business of discussing whether what they say they’re going to do is valid.
And now Part 1: Jerry Brown.
Jerry Brown’s Education Plan starts off with a bit about his track record. He points to increasing funding, starting charters, establishing high school graduation requirements (they didn’t have them until the 70s?), focusing on math and science, and promoting job-related educational programs. All of these sound pretty good on the surface. I wish he had more numbers outside of how much money was spent. He claims that the charters he started are “among the top-performing schools in Oakland.” The only basis we get for that are the college acceptance rates. Twenty-five percent of graduates from one of the schools, Oakland Military Institute, were accepted to University of California schools. For those unfamiliar, the aim for UC schools it to accept about the top 12.5% of high school graduates, so for 1/4 of theirs to get into UCs is very high. The other of his two schools is the Oakland School for the Arts, about which he give no numbers.
I find it fairly impressive that he instituted high school graduation requirements, but upon looking closer, one has to wonder what that really means. The legislation only required that all districts establish academic standards, not that those standards are the same across the board. The other piece of law that he created was the California Worksite Education and Training Act (CWETA) to fund job training in under-staffed sectors. Again, I like the idea, but he doesn’t give any specifics on results.
He then continues with what he plans if elected. He has 12 different sections, so I’ll try to be as succinct as possible about each. He first tackles higher ed. His plan is to overhaul the California Master Plan (I wrote about its 50th birthday a couple of months ago). Again, he’s pretty vague about what that means. He’s a proponent of using more online courses to save costs. The Regents have a jump on him there. Online courses are great if they’re well-monitored. I wish he’d say something about how to ensure high quality online courses. He does a good job on being specific (finally) on community colleges. They need to have courses that are more closely aligned with Cal States and UCs for transferring credits. However, he also says that “burdensome state regulations and mandates should be kept to a minimum.” Hmm… It’s hard to create across-the-board accountability without regulations.
Next, he thinks state testing needs an overhaul. It takes too much time and needs to be better aligned with college- and career-readiness. Of course, joining the Common Core standards movement affects this tremendously. Working with PARCC will be instrumental in forming the new assessments. However, the other assessment consortium, SMARTER, is the one that is developing a computer-adaptive model, which would cut down testing time while increasing testing accuracy.
His third goal is to change the school funding formulas to create more generalized pots of money for schools. Rather than the current 62 categories, he suggests fewer than 20. I’m not completely sold on this idea. I think it’s a good idea to evaluate the formula periodically and continue to tweak it, but having a goal of being less specific in your funding may not be such a good idea. The benefit of being more accurate with your spending may outweigh the cost of having people decide on these various categories. I suppose it depends on how much is actually being spent and how much would be saved if the formulas were reduced so much.
One of his strongest cases seems to be in teacher prep. Brown wants to improve our model in a few ways. First, he thinks there needs to be a focus on recruiting better candidates. He’s vagues on this point, but at least it’s something that he thinks should be looked into. More importantly, he wants to see a sort of apprentice program that I am a big fan of. Rather than throwing first year teachers to the wolves (read: children), he suggests we ease them into it. Teachers should be able to take education coursework while learning to teach in the field. Another part of his plan is to have on-site teacher evaluations run by districts, specifically looking at performance. This seems fairly commonsense. Something that I wrote about in my very first post is the need for ways teachers can move up beyond teaching. Brown proposes paying experienced teachers to become mentor teachers, helping out younger teachers and allowing them a path toward school leadership. On top of teacher-based performance initiatives, Brown thinks we need to have similar programs for recruiting, evaluating, and training better principals.
Point five is simplify the Education code. This falls into a similar category as simplifying the budget. It could be useful, but has lots of pitfalls. On the topic of creativity in the curriculum, Brown says he will, “create local and state initiatives to increase school focus on science, history and the humanities–without reducing needed attention to math and English.” While I’m all for making the scope broader, I think it’s just silly to claim you can focus on something else and still keep the same attention on what you already had. If that were possible, it would’ve already been happening. In a similar vein, he wants to put more focus on STEM subjects (science, math). I’m not really sure what he is thinking we can do to “expand curriculum” there. Another area that he thinks needs attention is English learning. He wants the State Board of Education to “adopt instructional materials” for “intensive intervention.” From what I’ve known, State BOE’s don’t generally have official materials. They have standards and it’s left up to the districts to make sure they have materials that align. If he’s suggesting that there be specific things that schools must adopt, then that goes against his interest in giving local education organizations more freedom. Another vague thing he wants is to reduce the achievement gap and increase graduation rates. Don’t we all.
I have a bit of a bone to pick when it comes to charter schools. He adds that as one of his sections, but then doesn’t say what he wants to do, other than that it’s a bad idea to have “massive increases in charter schools.” That sounds like a union line if I ever heard one. He thinks that district schools should be given those same freedoms, but unless you’re going to make contracts void, it is a huge hurdle to have innovative staffing, calendars, and numerous other options. Right now, with all of the bureaucracy defining education, charters are the easiest way to get around those barriers.
His last two points are weak as well. He says that local districts should “consider innovative schools.” Sure, but that’s not something he is going to do himself, is it? That sounds like more of something he supports, rather than a platform. The last area of concern for Brown is citizenship and character. The only thing he suggests is that current law gets in the way of discipline. I’m not sure how making it easier to discipline would make people with better character and citizenship. It sounds more like a fast-track to jail.
OK, so that’s Jerry Brown for you. If you made it this far, I commend you. Imagine if I hadn’t been to the point! Look for my analysis of Meg Whitman’s (potential) education policies tomorrow.