Volume 16 Issue 3
By Mike Myslinski
A good blueprint builds a good foundation and a powerful structure.
How to build and improve California’s public schools is the focus of a revealing new report titled “A Blueprint for Great Schools” from a high-powered panel of educators, parents, and community, business and labor leaders offering their best advice.
This blueprint amounts to a vision for the California Department of Education to follow for many years. Vital subjects covered include educator quality, finance reform and efficiency, facility/construction reform, accountability, and redesigning secondary school program models to better prepare students for college.
After his election a year ago, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson pulled together the 59-member transition advisory team in January. It met several times and released the report in August. Torlakson posted the 31-page document online at www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/bp and invited the public to send feedback to email@example.com.
“In some respects, the team’s findings are sobering, a reflection of how year after year of diminished resources, difficult circumstances, and shifting policy choices have frayed the very fabric of our most treasured public institutions — our neighborhood schools,” Torlakson says in his cover letter. “There is also cause for great hope and optimism. On issue after issue, you will find a wealth of sound strategies that hold great promise for our students and our schools.”
CTA President Dean E. Vogel commends Torlakson for listening to teachers on the panel and praises the report’s focus on finding better ways to retain and recruit educators, as well as more stable revenue sources and better support for students and teachers.
When our neighborhood schools are at risk, our communities are at risk,” Vogel says. “This report is really a blueprint for a better future for California. Despite the unprecedented cuts to our schools and the uncertain economy, we must find a way to fund some of these more urgent recommendations.”
No price tag came with the report’s suggestions.
But without changes, the state faces dangers. If nothing is done, the state faces
a shortfall of a million college-educated workers by 2025. School district funding inequities continue, with low-income schools and students losing out on funding and experienced teachers, the report warns.
Teachers on the panel included former CTA President David A. Sanchez; Tim Sbranti, mayor of Dublin and teacher at Dublin High School; Abigail Garcia, a teacher at Animo Leadership Charter High School in Inglewood; Liane Cismowski, vice principal and teacher at Mt. Diablo High School, Concord; Gregg Solko-vits, secondary vice president of United Teachers Los Angeles; and Jeff Patterson, a teacher at Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, Los Angeles County.
Sbranti, who is chair of State Council’s Political Involvement Committee, played a key role on the panel. He co-chaired a workgroup on education supports and parent/community involvement that recommended in the Blueprint that the California Department of Education create a “parent involvement master plan” to promote family engagement and collaboration with schools and educators.
“It was very refreshing that teachers played such a key role in framing this Blueprint,” Sbranti says. “Teachers very much had a seat at the table.”
Solkovits worked on educator quality issues. He notes the report’s disturbing conclusion that teacher turnover caused by “poor, but correctable, teaching conditions” costs California an estimated $700 million a year in replacement costs for educators who leave before retirement, based on estimates from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.
We have to find ways to pay our teachers more so we can attract and retain the best and the brightest educators,” Solkovits says. “It’s a side of the story that never gets told enough. Our veteran teachers are leaving, too. We need to provide the support they all need.”
He says it was thrilling to exchange reform ideas on the panel with renowned education expert Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford. She co-chaired the team with David Rattray, senior vice president of education and workforce development for the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
The report “lays out the challenge before us,” Darling-Hammond writes in the state’s news release unveiling the blueprint.
She adds that the state must rejoin “the ranks of high-achieving states by investing in quality teaching and creating a system that meets the demands of 21st century learning with forward-looking standards, curriculum, and assessments that ensure students are college and career ready.”