Volume 14, Issue 1
David A. Sanchez,
As we return to school this fall, students and educators face the harsh reality of more than $17 billion in cuts to public education. Class sizes are painfully larger, and many art, music, career technical education and other vital programs have been eliminated. More than 20,000 teachers, nurses, school librarians and counselors lost their jobs this year, and colleges and universities have turned away thousands of students. Together, these cuts represent the largest slash to California schools since the Great Depression.
And yet, many people in communities across California aren't aware of how these cuts are affecting their neighborhood schools. They think that if the grass is groomed and the flag is flying, then schools are okay. Many people — especially those without kids in school — don't see the severe lack of resources and how dire the situation really is. They don't always realize how hard educators work, in spite of diminishing resources, to keep our schools running and our students learning.
Over the summer, CTA engaged in hard-fought battles in Sacramento and managed to win some pretty important victories. Along with our allies in the Education Coalition, CTA succeeded in protecting Proposition 98 — the state's minimum funding guarantee — and the "maintenance factor," a provision that requires the state to restore to schools in good economic times the money cut from schools in tough times. When lawmakers adopted a final budget revision in mid-July that closed a $26.3 billion revenue gap, they sided with CTA and public education by refusing to suspend Proposition 98's protections and agreeing to restore more than $11 billion to schools over the coming years.
This year, as we head back to school, things will be different, and we need to respond accordingly. We need to reach out to the public and talk to them about the problems we face with public education in California. To help you plan and promote local events, CTA is relaunching its Stand Up for Schools social network. The site, www.standupforschools.org, is part of a new organizing effort designed to get schools and students the funding they need by changing the broken state budget and political system in Sacramento. We all know that public education is essential for children and communities. Public schools are truly the heart of our neighborhoods and more than an investment we make in our children's future — they're the best investment we can make in everyone's future. It's up to us to let the public know, to tell the story of how these cuts are hurting our students. CTA is also telling that story with a series of new radio and newspaper ads that launched last month.
The hard work of California educators and students was reflected this month as a record number of students are passing the High School Exit Exam — 90.6 percent of the Class of 2009, or nearly 433,000 students, passed the exam by the end of their senior year. Overall, these numbers show what dedicated teachers and education support professionals can do despite working in a state that ranks 47th in per-student funding. But as the recent unprecedented cuts play out in our schools this year, these gains will be harder to reach.
Most of you have probably heard talk lately about President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's ideas about education reform in their "Race to the Top" (RTTT) guidelines. CTA has been carefully watching the situation with RTTT, a competition of one-time education funds for $4.35 billion in grants, which is part of the federal stimulus package (see story, "Race to the Top could undermine student progress"). This plan is completely misguided and is not the change that was promised by the new administration. Instead, it is just more of the unfair mandates and one-size-fits-all approach we found with No Child Left Behind. A central tenet of RTTT is to pay and evaluate teachers based on student test results. We all know that evaluating teachers based on a single test score is bad for schools and bad for students. It pits teacher against teacher without regard for real student progress that can't be measured with a single test score. The administration knows this and should be promoting a multiple-measures approach to recognizing student achievement and teacher effectiveness. It will also make it harder to recruit and retain teachers in lower-performing schools, the very schools and students Secretary Duncan claims he wants to help.
Supporters of RTTT say they want education reform to be based on research. Well, I don't know where they are getting their research, but the reforms contained in RTTT are not proven to work. In fact, numerous studies point out that these reforms don't work. Secretary Duncan has said that he wants educators to be a part of the process, so we must speak up. This plan is ridiculous in its requirements and disheartening in its nature. Our students deserve reform that is rooted in proven research and that takes into account their unique abilities and challenges. And educators deserve reform that respects their professional opinions and experience, and that strengthens the integrity of the profession.
Unfortunately, in order to comply with RTTT guidelines, Governor Schwarzenegger has convened a special legislative session and is pushing a flawed package of education reforms similar to those rejected by voters in 2005. State lawmakers need to slow down and truly consider the long-term repercussions of their actions. None of these reforms reduce class sizes or restore one art or music program.
CTA has already provided feedback to Secretary Duncan on the proposed RTTT guidelines. I'm asking that you contact your state lawmakers and tell them to focus on getting our school the resources they need, rather than pushing more top-down mandates that punish students and educators. Tell them to slow down and be careful with the laws that govern our public schools and safeguard our children.
You can see that we have quite a year cut out for us. I want to let you know that CTA will make sure its members' voices are heard. Together we're going to create the positive change that will give educators the tools to create an educational system worthy of our students.
¡Sí Se Puede!
¿Por Qué No?
[Yes we can! Why not?], words inspired by César Chávez, encourage us to remember that, together, we can achieve great things.