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Published in Print: January 13, 1999, as Davis Makes Big Push for Accountability in Calif. Schools

Davis Makes Big Push for Accountability in Calif. Schools

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Declaring that "no one gets a free ride," California's first Democratic governor in 16 years unveiled a blueprint last week to put more pressure on teachers, students, and parents to improve the state's 8,000 K-12 public schools.

In his Jan. 6 State of the State Address, Gov. Gray Davis also outlined a plan to improve student reading skills as part of a $444 million reform package he planned to include in a budget proposal that was slated for release Jan. 8.

As promised last month, he called on the Democratic-controlled legislature to open a special session on education Jan. 19. "My goal is to set higher expectations for everyone involved in education," Mr. Davis told a joint session of the legislature.

In a move that could prove politically sensitive, he wants to reform the state's program for partnering new and veteran teachers into a peer-review process. The reviews could be used in promotion and firing decisions.

The California Teachers Association, which endorsed Mr. Davis in last fall's election, only recently dropped its opposition to peer reviews. But the cta's stance calls for locally developed plans. The cta is the state affiliate of the National Education Association.

"I'll be seeking $100 million to make California the first state in the nation to establish a genuine peer-review process for teachers," Mr. Davis said.

But the governor also wants to beef up state support for staff development. He called on the state's colleges and universities to craft new programs to train new and veteran teachers.

Schools Targeted

The accountability net would also fall on high school seniors by requiring them to pass a minimum-skills graduation test beginning in 2003--something already required in 19 states.

In his Jan. 4 inaugural address, two days before the State of the State speech, Mr. Davis also said he would try to raise minority enrollment in the state's top colleges by asking the University of California system to admit the top 4 percent of graduates from every high school in the state.

To address low performance, his plan would randomly target 200 schools a year from the bottom half of state test scores for technical and financial help. They would get a year to improve or face closure or personnel changes, and their students might be allowed to transfer to other schools. The governor also wants $150 million in awards for the most improved schools.

"The single most powerful complaint from the people of California is that deficient public schools must be held to task," Mr. Davis declared. "And they're right."

The State of the State speech seemed to hit the right note with the business sector.

"I'm sure my members would commend the governor for his focus on results," said Bill Hauck, the president of the California Business Roundtable and the chairman of California Business for Education Excellence, a recently formed coalition.

Mr. Davis also said he would urge schools to require parents to sign contracts committing them to read to their children and help with their homework.

The need to improve literacy skills got high billing in the speech. Gov. Davis wants to spend $75 million to set up reading academies in schools for grades K-4. Another $74 million would go toward helping students who are learning to speak English. The money would pay for new after-school and summer school programs, as well as professional development for teachers.

Cash awards would go to the top 400 schools whose students read the most books from state reading lists, and $25 million in new aid would go for classroom-library materials in K-4 classrooms.

NEW YORK

Pataki Once Again Seeks To End Principal Tenure

Gov. George E. Pataki of New York put forward an education agenda last week that mixed long-standing objectives, such as ending tenure for principals, with new plans to make it harder for districts to raise taxes, but easier for them to address facilities' needs.

In his fifth State of the State Address, the Republican governor--who was easily re-elected to a second term in November--called for tightening limits on the growth of local education budgets and requiring approval by two-thirds of voters to raise local school taxes beyond a state-imposed cap.

Those ideas, which were promptly attacked by groups representing the state's teachers and school boards, accompanied a proposal to amend the state constitution to mandate that two-thirds of lawmakers approve any increase in state taxes.

"The act of raising taxes is a destructive act and should therefore be a difficult act," Gov. Pataki said.

The governor also called for holding overall state spending growth in fiscal 2000 to below the inflation rate, despite an anticipated budget surplus in excess of $1 billion. Putting that money in reserve, Mr. Pataki said, would safeguard plans already under way to cut taxes.

New York State United Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, called Mr. Pataki's spending proposals unnecessary at a time of modest local spending increases, and it said his plans would make it harder for students to meet more rigorous academic standards.

The New York State School Boards Association agreed. "Empowering a minority to frustrate the will of the majority could weaken our public school systems," said Pamela Betheil, the association's president. The association was happier with the governor's proposal to create a new state unit to help arrange financing for school facilities projects.

In his Jan. 6 speech, Mr. Pataki reiterated his call for the abolition of tenure for school principals, an issue at the heart of a bitter contract dispute playing out in New York City. He also restated his support for legislation allowing teachers to expel disruptive students from their classrooms, and for creating summer language-immersion programs to give immigrant students a crash course in English.

--CAROLINE HENDRIE

Vol. 18, Issue 18, Page 17

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