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After Prop 30 – The Joke Is On California Parents & Students

I am, as a rule, loath to vote for any new tax. So, it surprised even me when I voted for California Proposition 30 in 2012. I was persuaded that if voters did not approve Proposition 30 – which raises sales taxes and high end income tax for 7 years – that the State Legislature would make good on their threats to punish California school children with an even shorter school year and shorter school days.

Proposition 30 passed because California parents want better schools. California children deserve better schools. California parents were told that there wasn’t enough money in the state budget to adequately fund K to 12 education – even including about a 5% “kicker” from the federal No Child Left Behind legislation without higher taxes.

Now we find that the joke is on parents and children. The State Legislature and the Governor have banded together to do a favor for the California Teachers Association (CTA). The Governor is expected to sign legislation that would end student performance testing – no academic achievement testing (API) and no school performance evaluations. It’s the beginning of the reversal of all the gains that parents have made to hold educators accountable since Governor Gray Davis put higher academic standards and teacher accountability in place in the late 1990s.

Enter the lone advocate for parents and students, United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. In a letter sent to the Governor, the Secretary wrote “If California moves forward with a plan that fails to assess all its students, as required by federal law, the department will be forced to take action, which could include withholding funds from the state.” California usually gets about $5 billion in federal assistance – almost the same amount as the additional education tax receipts from Proposition 30 – coincidence – I think not!

The legislation suspends academic performance (API) testing until the shift to a new computer-based test to support the new Common Core Curriculum is ready – but there is no date certain offered. I agree with noted Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters who suggested that the real objective of the legislation is to end all academic performance testing.

The legislation argues that testing suspension is needed to complete the development and pilot test of an online testing tool called MAPPs to replace API/STAR Testing. This is an outright lie! Continuing current standardized testing (STAR) is entirely separate from planned piloting of the new MAPPs system. Besides, it is laughable to think that the MAPP test results in, for example, 2016 would be believed by parents without any tie back to testing in the prior academic year.

The objections of California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers leadership to the use of student standardized test scores – as a measure of teacher performance – are well documented. The use of Academic Performance Index (API) scores to evaluate school performance is equally noxious to these powerful teachers’ unions.

A bill that suspends student performance testing effectively eliminates performance measures in teacher evaluation and strips school principals and school boards of the only tool they have to remove underperforming teachers – the union’s ultimate goal! The result of this legislation is, also, to neuter parent school take-over laws by, similarly, eliminating the use of API scores to determine if a specific school is succeeding or failing to improve the academic performance of its total student body—year over year.

Under existing California law, the parents of students at schools that continue to under-perform – based on API scores – have the right to petition for the removal and replacement of the principal and some teaching staff at the failing school. Without the API scores, the parents will have no mechanism to exercise this right.

The conflicting interests of parents and teachers unions could not be clearer.

Recent public policy polls by University of Southern California found that 80% of parents support annual academic standardized testing. Parents want to know how their children are doing individually and in comparison to their local, national and global peers. Parents, also, support including test results in individual teacher evaluations.

The only logically conclusion one can reach is that the legislation is political pay back – plain and simple. Jerry Brown never made any secret of the fact that he relied entirely on the CTA and other state employee unions to fund his 2010 gubernatorial campaign – a cool $24 million. The same is true for majority of Democrats in the Legislature.

Parents, grandparents and tax payers – time to call the Governor. He must be convinced signing this legislation establishes him firmly as pro-teacher and anti-student – making his re-election, perhaps, NOT so “inevitable”, after all!

Take a moment to thank US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and urge him to keep the pressure on Governor Brown.

There can be no “recess” on teacher accountability!

Photo Credit: Bay Area News Group/Shutterstock

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