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Systemic change

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 6/11/2009, 5 p.m.

A committee created by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger two years ago to evaluate and make recommendations about the kindergarten to grade 12 education in the state is on the road talking to teachers, administrators, parents, and students about its recommendations outlined in the "Report Student's First, Renewing Hope for California's Future."

Los Angeles was the first in the series of comunity dialogues, and just shy of 50 people turned out on an election evening at Los Angeles Trade Technical College to listen, pose questions, and offer input.

The committee has come up with a comprehensive set of recommendations that begin with the statement identifying the system of education in California as "the culprit behind the continued failure to produce students who can achieve."

"The core problem is that successful students and educators all too often are succeeding in spite of the system--a system that is hobbled by red tape, riddled with inefficiencies, and (that is) impossible for parents and students to understand," wrote the committee.

The 18-member committee said that it will take common sense and courage to make the recommendations they are offering in whole instead of "cherry picking." The latter, said the report, will simply exacerbate the problems already in existence.

The changes the committee is recommending address four areas--stengthening teaching and leadership; ensuring fair funding that rewards results; streamlining governance and strengthening accountability; and using data wisely. In addition, the commission is offering suggestions on how to create a foundation for continuous improvement in the state's schools.

One key recommendation under the teaching and leadership category is reforming compensation for teachers and school leaders. Instead of basing pay on seniority, the committee recommends it be tied to student achievement and additional certifications.

Other recommendations include: (1) give teachers advance career opportunities without forcing them to leave the classroom. These might involve mentoring and site leadership roles; (2) allow peers and leaders to use professional standards and performance outcomes to evaluate teachers and principals; (3) target professional development to school priorities and student needs; (4) ensure that there is an equitable distribution of quality teachers and administrators; and (5) look at expanding the teacher credentialing capabilities beyond schools of education.

A key recommendation under the funding category drew a number of cautionary remarks from teaching officials in the audience. The committee recommended that all funding for categorical programs (budget line items designated for a specific purpose) be combined into one pot and given to the district, thus providing more spending flexibility. In addition, there would be a 40 percent increase in the money being spent on high poverty schools and a 20 percent bump for English language learners.

While teaching officials welcomed the increased spending, they also noted that the categorical funds were in place because sometimes school districts did not make the proper decision about where and how to spend funds.

Among the recommendations under strengthening governance are empowering county superintendents to enforce district accountability and intervention; and enhancing sanctions for school failures with zero-tolerance intervention.

Under the data category, the committee stressed making performance, program, and financial information transparent and available to parents, educators, communities, and the state; creating comprehensive data systems that link student, teacher, school, district, and state data with the capacity to link college, work, and social services data; and evaluating programs to ensure effectiveness before continuing them.

More community dialogues will be held June 16 in San Diego, July 8 in Sacramento, and another in the Bay Area, but a date or location has not been selected.

Those interested in reading and commenting on the report can go to www.everychildprepared.org.