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Eastin Unveils Plan To Push Standards in Calif.

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Superintendent Delaine Eastin is pushing a plan to bring standards-based reform to California's schools district by district.

The first-term schools chief last month offered the state's more than 1,000 districts greater autonomy in exchange for a commitment to high standards in content and performance.

Ms. Eastin described her plan as a way to jump-start the standards-based-reform movement in California. That movement stalled in 1994 when Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the state's testing system for assessing student learning. (See Education Week, Oct. 5, 1994.)

Although lawmakers last fall passed legislation to reconstruct the tests, that law does not require new content and performance standards to be adopted by the state school board until 1998.

Ms. Eastin said that under her plan districts would develop standards and other reforms--including high school graduation requirements--that could become a model for the board and the legislature.

"It's easier for legislators to legislate if they have prototypes to work with," said Ms. Eastin, who as a Democratic state legislator chaired the Assembly's education committee before she was elected schools chief in 1994.

Eleven districts have joined or are close to joining Ms. Eastin's initiative, including two of the state's largest: the 66,000-student San Francisco district and the 48,000-student San Juan district.

Leo St. John, the superintendent of the 5,500-student North Monterey County district, which also has joined the program, said, "At first, we worried that it was just another top-down initiative." But the so-called challenge districts are being encouraged to build the reforms as they see fit, he said.

Meeting Targets

Challenge districts would have to meet specific student-performance targets, including a 2 percent reduction each year in the number of students who fail to meet grade-level goals; a 2 percent increase in the number of students who surpass those goals; and reduced middle and high school dropout rates.

Districts would adopt high school graduation requirements that call for completion of 18 yearlong courses, including four in English, three in history-social science, two in mathematics, and two in laboratory science. Graduation requirements are now set locally.

Ms. Eastin acknowledged that she will be limited in the autonomy that she can offer districts in return, but she said she will work with the state board to get waivers for challenge districts from state and federal laws.

Republican Steve Baldwin, the chairman of the Assembly's education committee, said districts are seeking greater flexibility than Ms. Eastin's plan offers. Many school boards are looking to create charter schools as a way to free themselves from the state's red tape, he said.

California limits the number of charter schools allowed to 100; but the state is among the most active in the nation at granting charters and recently reached that limit. (See Education Week, Nov. 29, 1995.)

"If they're going to go through the whole process of reorganizing themselves," he said, "they're going to go with charter schools over challenge districts."

Highlights of 'Challenge' Plan

  • Content and performance standards at every grade level in every subject.
  • Rigorous high school graduation requirements, calling for student mastery of 18 courses.
  • A Golden State Achievement Certificate, beginning with the class of 2004, to replace the current high school diploma.
  • A comprehensive accountability system to measure student performance annually.
  • Safe and secure schools.
  • Clean, well-lighted schools with modern information technology.
  • Family/school partnerships.
  • Student-learning plans tailored to each student's needs.
  • School-based decisionmaking.
  • Staff and community training in elements of the challenge.

SOURCE: California Department of Education.

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