Monday, April 12, 2010

Gloria Romero ? For Superintendent of Public Instruction

  California Superintendent  of Public Instruction
There are three candidates for Superintendent who have any reasonable chance to win; Gloria Romero,  Tom  Torlakson, and  Larry  Aceves.
Romero and Torlakson have similar advantages and disadvantages.  They are both termed out legislators seeking a new position, not leaders in education.
In the last two years California’s  k-12 schools have received over a  $16 Billion  cut back in funding.   California presently ranks  45th  of the states in per pupil spending and last among the states in class size.   Currently the Governor proposes to reduce  k-12 spending by another  $2.4 Billion.
Since funding is a legislative issue, at first consideration it might seem that the two retiring legislators would have the greatest possibility of convincing the legislature and the governor to adequately support public schools.  However, the prior to Superintendents Jack O’Connell and Delaine Easton came directly from the legislature and presided over the schools during times of massive funding cut backs.   We just do not have evidence that being a Senator – even the Chair of the Senate Education Committee – does much good once you leave that office and become the Superintendent.

To understand the issues in this race you need to understand key issues in k-12 education.  This will also prepare you to understand the emerging debate of the re-authorization of ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) currently known as No Child Left Behind.
The Obama administration has proposed a re-authorization with some positive changes and some troubling directions.
First, you need to understand that California’s k-12 schools are not all bad.  California students regularly score ( on average) at the 47th. or 48th. rank among the 50 states in reading and math.  Superintend Jack O’Connell notes that the scores are stagnant, or holding steady.  He does not note they are  stagnant at 47th. out of 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
These scores are cause for alarm- and they have been rather constant for over 25 years.  That is, the several waves of school reform, such as writing new standards and increasing testing, have not improved the average scores in California.

Lets start with the problem of average.  Most of California’s schools are doing quite well particularly given the declining levels of state financial support for K-12 education.  It is particular schools that are in crisis.  The new Obama proposals target the bottom 10% of schools.  This is a reasonable and intelligent decision.  Lets look at the drop out factories.
Over 85% of the schools are doing quite well by most  state, national or international standards.  For the election, this means that we need a superintendent for 85% of our schools who can support schools and teachers and who can secure adequate funding.   Which candidate can get a 2/3 vote for adequate funding of schools and get the support of a future governor?
Senator Gloria Romero is the leading candidate for the position – and she has some powerful opponents.  Senator Romero has been a leader in the legislature on issues of prison reform, prison funding, and the effort to provide educational opportunities in the prisons to rehabilitate young offenders.  In her efforts she has been a harsh critic of the actions of the prison guards union in violating the civil rights of prisoners and she has not supported the efforts to increase funding for prisons,  Instead she has preferred community based diversion programs.  The growth of the prison budget is one of several factors leading to the cuts in k-12 funding in the state general budget. 
For her efforts, Senator Romero has earned the wrath and opposition  of the powerful and well funded prison guards union and many law enforcement groups.   Many Democrats look at this conflict and decide to seek another candidate.  Assemblyman Tom Tolakson seems a likely candidate.
Torlakson has gained the endorsements of a wide variety of Democratic Party and labor groups particularly those who for one reason or another oppose Gloria Romero.  He has the support of both major teachers unions, the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teaches Association.
Romero had offended these unions over several years but particularly in her efforts in the last year to support changing state laws to respond to demands of  Obama’s Race to the Top.   She gained the support of parents’  groups in Los Angeles by supporting their strong demand for new charter schools ( A part of Race to the Top). Charter schools are one immediate way to achieve the long standing effort of parents to separate themselves from a largely dysfunctional Los Angeles City School System.   Again, specific schools are doing well, but the school district has failed in many ways.
Romero has chosen to align herself with a group of educational advocates ( not teachers) who consider themselves school reformers.  In this she gains the support of Ed Voice and other corporate aligned school “reformers”.

These reformers are  what Diane Ravitch calls, “The Billionaires Boys Club” in her new book.  It is a series of foundations with wealth, Gates, Walton Family, Broad, all committed to charter schools and measuring teachers by test scores.  In California a leader in this direction is Ed Voice. These foundations employ a number of ‘consultants” and fund endless meetings of important people.  At times, they even drop into a school for a quick look ( usually less than two hours).  This is a scam of the consultants and the NGOs  such as the Ed Voice and others.  It is a good life. Good hotels, good food, you don’t have to meet with kids and their runny noses or problems of poverty.
            The consultants and ‘experts” of the billionaires clubs provide Governors and politicians with a valuable service, they can appear to be doing something about the education crisis without spending much money.
      Politicians, Secretary Duncan and the eduwonks of the “consultant class”, would continue to ignore  the crumbling and under-resourced urban school buildings and programs where children don't even have textbooks or toilet paper, let alone  science and technology labs.  Instead  the “professional consultants”  would focus on the same school turnaround policies for low income schools that have been demonstrated as not working in  Chicago and other cities.
            The consultants repeat of mantra of several reforms; standards, testing, accountability even though California has some of the highest standards in the nation, and some of the lowest test scores.  When one silver bullet is exhausted, they move on to the next, seldom  stopping to listen to the teaches who work in the schools.

Romero’s alliance with the eduwonks reached its apex in the hearings for SX1-5 in the Special session of the legislature in January 2010  when existing California law was changed to respond demands of  Race to the Top. ( California was ranked 17 out of the states in the RTTT competitive grants.)
A following post will consider Torlakson and Acevez.
Comments and opinions welcome.
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