Volume 16 Issue 3
By Mike Myslinski
It’s a 31-page state document with major recommendations from educators and experts that would have a huge impact on California public education if enacted. People have questions about the new “Blueprint for Great Schools.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has answers. He took time out from his schedule to respond to questions by e-mail about some of the ideas from the panel of dozens of education stakeholders he assembled.
The full report is posted online here. The California Department of Education wants feedback and is asking the public to send responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 31-page “Blueprint For Great Schools” report is the result of months of impressive work by 59 educators, education experts and many other stakeholders. What happens next?
We get to work. We didn’t write the Blueprint to sit on a shelf somewhere — we’re already using it to craft legislation, to create a dialogue about the urgent need to invest in our schools again, and to make changes within the Department of Education to be more helpful and collaborative with our school partners.
But how will the report bring about real change when its recommendations carry huge costs and are only advisory?
We don’t shy away from the fact that the financial emergency facing our schools is the biggest roadblock in our path. Part of what we hope the Blueprint will do is help Californians understand the heroic work happening in our schools now, the challenges we face ahead, and the opportunity to restore the state’s leadership in education — when we’re willing to invest in our schools again.
The report says that “expert teachers are perhaps the most important resource for improving student learning.” But it also warns that poor teaching conditions cost California an estimated $700 million a year from teacher turnover. That’s astonishing. What are your three top solutions to halting teacher turnover?
We’ve got to stop the finger pointing and the “blame game” attacks on teachers, and build the ranks of educators with resources and respect. First, we need to look at teacher preparation and recruitment, and encourage practices that give new teachers the skills to succeed. We need to strengthen mentoring and support systems for teachers once they are on the job. And for the long term, the Blueprint proposes — and I support — a state Commission on Educator Excellence to work with teachers and administrators to develop more effective evaluation systems.
Schools are underfunded, and students suffer from endless state cuts that have cost our classrooms billions of dollars in recent years. The Blueprint’s recommendations on school finance include seeking new revenue sources for schools. What new sources would work best? Would creating a weighted student funding formula, as the report urges, really resolve some of the funding crisis?
I’m prepared to support any reasonable proposal to invest in our schools, including statewide tax measures, as well as allowing local parcel taxes to be approved with a 55 percent majority. I have also proposed bringing solar and renewable energy to more schools, which could save hundreds of millions of dollars over the long term. Year after year of deep cuts to our schools has taken a terrible toll on California. I was deeply disappointed that Republicans did not support the Governor’s plan to extend the temporary taxes as part of this year’s budget, because there’s a direct connection between what we invest in our schools and the results they achieve. A weighted student funding formula alone won’t resolve the crisis — but in combination with an overall increase in investment, it could help bring additional resources to students and schools most in need.
The Blueprint recommends launching “an ongoing initiative to support union-management collaboration.” How would you help make that a reality?
As a teacher, I respect the collective bargaining process. At the same time, I see the value of bringing union and administration leaders from a number of school districts together to share ideas and define new pathways to resolve common problems.
It’s the perfect storm. The report warns that there is a steep decline in new teachers, and that California faces a shortfall of about 1 million college-educated workers by 2025. What are the implications and bright spots for the future of the state?
The challenge is real. If California doesn’t produce the next generation of great teachers, how can we hope to have the engineers, doctors and scientists we need to meet the demands of a competitive global economy? At the same time, I’m an optimist about the future of our state. Nearly every day, I have the privilege of visiting schools where amazing things are happening. Despite all the budget cuts and all the other obstacles that have been thrown at teachers in recent years, they are working valiantly every day for the success of their students. I believe that out of this crisis, a stronger, smarter California will emerge — with teachers leading the way.