I fear we are entering a new cycle of benign neglect of school reform, where the status quo continues and student achievement results do not match the urgency of the time. Yet there are some true education reformers that should be mentioned.
One such educational reformer is former state Senator Gloria Romero, now with Democrats for Educational Reform in Southern California. Dr. Romero was the first woman to hold the position of Democratic majority leader of the California Senate from 2001-08. In 2008, Sen. Romero stepped down to hold the chair of the Senate Education committee; she then unsuccessfully ran for the position of State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Dr. Romero now cautions that Proposition 30 was a Band-Aid on the current system. “We got no reform for the investment,” Romero said. She asserts that the unions are more emboldened after Prop. 30’s passage. Eric Hanushek, a professor at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, told the Mercury News, “I’m concerned now that we’ve gotten past the fiscal cliff (in reference to Proposition 30), we’re going back to business as usual.”
On the county Board of Education, I sense a transitioning away from approving quality countywide-benefit charters, so as not to offend our colleagues in districts who have seen the SCCOE Board’s role—unfairly in my opinion—as a power grab. The Board’s approval of quality charter schools on appeal from districts, or on a countywide-benefit charter basis, has produced quality reform efforts.
But the pendulum is swinging back to favor the districts, its employees and not the children. There is hope that reform can come from continued court challenges to the “broken” system of public education. Legislating reform continues to be thwarted at the local and state levels by powerful forces that want to protect the status quo, such as the California Teachers Association. Maybe our only hope left is the courts.
A provocative court case that has received scant attention in the media could benefit the poorest children in our schools. On Nov. 9, 2012, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu’s preliminary ruling went against the state of California. This could be an epic event.
In the case of Vergara et al. vs. California, the defendants are Edmund G. Brown Jr., in his official capacity as governor; Tom Torlakson, in his official capacity as state superintendent; the California Department of Education; and the State Board of Education.
The Plaintiffs, including Daniella Martinez, a former student in the Alum Rock School District and now a student in a charter school within Alum Rock, allege that the Permanent Employment Statute (tenure) results in teachers being offered permanent employment without determining their effectiveness. The plaintiffs also argue that the dismissal statutes result in an ineffective process to dismiss teachers for poor performance, “grossly ineffective” teachers are often left in the classroom, and the Seniority-Based Reduction Statute results in teachers being retained or laid-off without taking into account their performance.
This results in children having unequal access to education. The defendants demurred (objected) to these arguments for a variety of legal reasons.
Besides Alum Rock School District and Daniella Martinez—daughter of Karen Martinez—the defendants are 7-16 years old and attend schools in the Pasadena Unified, Sequoia Union High School District and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. I am holding out hope that a superior court judge in Los Angeles, interpreting our state and national constitutions, might wield the gavel to help end the harmful status quo.
In Judge Rolf M. Treu’s ruling he curtly stated, “The demurrers (by the State) are overruled. Defendants to answer within 10 days.” Stay tuned. The epicenter for this seismic event is Los Angles County, but all of us would feel the tremendous shaking here in Silicon Valley.
On Wednesday night, an agenda item takes up the countywide-benefit charter for Discovery II Charter School in San Jose Unified. The night will show how are newly constituted Board, with our new Superintendent, might lean on issues of sustaining the status quo.
Joseph Di Salvo is chair of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.