California Gov. Schwarzenegger is receiving a good dose of teacher criticism due to his entry of the state into the “Race to the Top”, the popular name for the current administration’s grant money for public education systems.
The governor is being criticized because he is proposing some vigorous changes well beyond those required to be eligible for federal grant money. Considering that teachers lobbied successfully to pass legislation in 2006 which prohibits merit pay in the state of California, he should not be surprised that any mention of the phrase merit pay system would bring criticism from the teachers. Teachers unions quickly criticized Schwarzenegger’s plans as unnecessary and rushed.
How much money is at stake? Oh, just a measly $4.35 billion in federal grants. In recent months California has been openly criticized by the current administration for not taking the lead on educational reform efforts, due mainly to California’s ban on linking test scores to teacher performance. The current federal grant money is earmarked to be distributed to states that do not have any kind of ban on linking test scores and teacher performance, so California would be automatically ineligible for federal money without changing the 2006 law.
Of course Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposals are being labeled as brave and effective by the current administration. The states of Illinois and Indiana have recently changed their laws and policies in order to comply with recent federal guidelines, but California’s proposal exceeds what other states are doing in scope. Due to the sweeping changes proposed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, California is likely to become a national model for educational reform. What California does will affect what other states choose to do. The eyes of educators and legislators are going to be on California.
Five of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s reforms are:
1. Adopt a merit pay system that will reward ineffective teachers and give them incentives to teach at underachieving schools
2. Allow students at underachieving schools to transfer to the school of their choice
3. Force school districts to close or reconstitute underachieving schools, or relegate them to charter schools independent management
4. Lift the current cap on number of charter schools that can be approved every year
5. Require school districts to include student test data during teacher evaluation
Each one of these five points is being hotly debated and protested by teachers unions in California. Gov. Schwarzenegger is being criticized for caving in to federal demands and ignoring the 2006 law. The regular California legislative session is scheduled to end September 11, and Gov. Schwarzenegger strongly desires lawmakers to finish educational proposals by early October to meet all deadlines for federal grant application.
Not mentioned in the list of five above is the most hotly-debated proposal detail. Certified teachers are protesting against the use of value-added analysis. This analysis measures individual improvement of a student based on their own improvement year-to-year, rather than a student achievement of a specific goal. Measuring students against themselves is seen by some as a valid way to evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher or school.
At the crux of the debate is the opposition of certified teachers to the state mandating how local districts utilize student performance data, and the fact that there is no debate among the stakeholders, the teachers themselves. Teachers are not being consulted, and therefore they naturally feel these proposals are being rushed. The governor is relying on ideas that haven’t been proven to work and is trying to force them on others, according to the California Federation of Teachers. And the California Teachers Association expressed that the proposals weren’t well thought out.
The California Federation of Teachers cites a recent study that shows charter schools do not outperform regular schools. The CFT feels that to have a proposal that removes the limit for charter schools is unnecessary.
California’s Democratic lawmakers usually receive support from teachers unions, but in this case that support will be difficult to attain. California has a history of blocking sweeping educational reform efforts, but there have never been so many federal dollars at stake before.
Why is Gov. Schwarzenegger going above and beyond the minimal requirements for receiving federal grant money? Some speculate he would like California to become an example state, a leader in educational reform. Since California has a history of balking at educational reform efforts, embracing the largest federally funded educational reform movement to date would certainly bring historical credit to the State and the Governor, wouldn’t it?