Sunday, September 20, 2009

California’s Race to the Top: Senator Romero’s Opening Remarks

California State Senate
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

SACRAMENTO, CA— Senator Romero, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks in addressing the Senate Committee on Education and Subcommittee No.1 of the Budget and Fiscal Review Committee hearing "Race to the Top or Lost in Space? California’s Response for Federal Stimulus Funding"

“The President of the United States of America has issued a challenge to every state in the nation. Today we will ask ourselves if California understands that challenge, and if we have what it takes to accept that challenge. Will we take flight? Or will we, and the 6 million students in our public education system—be left behind? Will we race to the top or be lost in space? That decision begins today.

“But let me be clear – we are not here today merely to discuss eligibility requirements—are we eligible, are we not, do we have a firewall, do we not? Nor are we here to just talk about money.

“This hearing and the Race to the Top is about principles – principles that are the foundation of an approach to public education that recognizes that what we do in this Special Session called by the Governor in response to the challenge will put an indelible print on the future of public education in California long after most of us have left this building.

“This hearing and the Race to the Top is about equality – ensuring that every child from every background has access to a quality education, including an effective teacher and principal. Effective teachers who are respected, valued, and treated fairly. They hold the future in their classrooms.

“The Race to the Top is about opportunity – a commitment to no longer turning a blind eye and turning around the historically lowest-performing schools and the dropout factories, of offering new choices to parents so their children have schools that will send them off to college or a good job rather than to prison.

“This hearing and the Race to the Top is about understanding education as a civil rights issue. When the Governor announced the Special Session last week, one of those who stood with him was Alice Huffman, the president of the state NAACP. This is the same NAACP that celebrates its 100th year anniversary this year, and which, half a century ago filed Brown v. Board of Education demanding that America stop school segregation because separate is not equal.

“Today, decades after the Brown decision, we still have a form of segregation in our public school system. Nearly 80 percent of students in our lowest-performing schools are African American or Latino. Poor students and students of color are four times more likely to have under-prepared teachers. We have an achievement gap for African Americans, Latinos, and English learners that has been both persistent and pernicious – confirmed again with new test scores released just last week.

“Over the years, many of us in this Senate and in this room have advanced innovative legislation to find new ways to reform and transform public education. Impressive efforts have happened at the local level—oftentimes in spite of Sacramento or Washington. That includes: the use of student data to improve instruction and reward teachers in Long Beach and Fresno; an alternative compensation program in San Francisco that resulted from collaboration with the teachers union; a focus on better, not just more, high-quality charter schools throughout the state; a parents’ revolution that is captivating Los Angeles.

“I applaud President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and their call for change. Just last year, that call for change motivated a nation—particularly its youth. Today, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to show the nation that California can—as a state—embrace change.

“Today we will discuss how far we’ve come, and ask ourselves how far we are willing to go to reach the new frontier in education exploration and excellence. Much of what we discuss will be controversial, border on legalese. We will have much discussion about data, and how it is to be used and linked. I look forward to opening up our Ed Code and understanding language in subdivision (c) of the Ed Code Section 10601.5, which prohibits use of CALTIDES data, either solely or in conjunction with CALPADS data, “for purposes of pay, promotion, sanction, or personnel evaluation of an individual teacher or groups of teachers, or of any other employment decisions related to individual teachers.”

“But we will also have discussion about another section of the Ed Code, 44662, and particularly subsection (b) which expressly states “The governing board of each school district shall evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to:
(1) The progress of pupils toward the standards established pursuant to subdivision (a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments.

“If there is a firewall, then should we remove it? If there is no firewall, then should we stop bringing in the lawyers to explain and just clarify in plain English once and for all?And shouldn’t we demand greater oversight—if we can do this, or should do this, then why haven’t we? Where is the state monitoring and oversight?

“I want to commend everyone for being here today. Our work is cut out for us if we are going to run this race or be relegated to galaxy dust right from the start.

“I know these issues are complex. Controversies surround us about the use and effectiveness of standardized tests and how these can be linked to student achievement. But I believe we have the talent to sort these out. If we don’t sort this out in California, someone in Texas or Florida will sort it out for all of us. I hope we commit to engage right from the start. We are the 8th largest economy in the world with a diverse student body—we have the opportunity to showcase the realm of possibilities.

“But this hearing and this race is much more than just a firewall and data. It’s about having the courage to restructure chronically low-performing schools and exploring greater options to recruit talent into the classroom. It’s about not just evaluating one teacher’s performance but understanding the supply, demand, and distribution of quality teachers in all parts of California—urban and rural, high poverty and high affluence. It’s about having a vigorous debate over testing—understanding their inherent weaknesses and predictive powers. It’s about asking ourselves if we truly want to partner with our parents and step aside to put student first.

“The questions we ask, and the answers we provide today will set the tone for an entire generation of students. If we’re satisfied with status quo and feel no sense of urgency, we have no need to act. I think this race to the top will reveal our California character—and the nation will be watching to see who we really are. For me, status quo is unacceptable. We may never have an opportunity like this again. Both President Obama and Secretary Duncan have said—this is our moment; this is our time. In California, as a Senator from East Los Angeles, I would put it another way: this is our time to stand and deliver.”

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