Calif. Education Initiatives Criticized As Lacking Cohesion
California lawmakers should give teachers and schools a chance to make sense of recent changes to the state education system rather than piling on new initiatives, argues a report released last week by a respected think tank.
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The legislature has passed a flurry of new education programs in recent years that, when viewed together, resemble "pieces of a jigsaw puzzle just dumped from the box," rather than a cohesive approach to improving education, says the report by Policy Analysis for California Education. The research organization, known as PACE, is based at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.
Gov. Gray Davis' recent proposals to make teachers exempt from the state's personal-income tax and to provide forgivable home loans to teachers who work in hard-to-staff schools are examples of that piecemeal approach, said Elizabeth Burr, a project director at PACE who helped write the report.
"Governor Davis is identifying the need for teacher quality and retention in California," Ms. Burr said. "But his proposals are Christmas-tree ornaments. There's no common thread linking them, no long-term strategy."
Susan K. Burr, Mr. Davis' interim secretary for education, said that characterization was inaccurate. She said that many of the first-term Democratic governor's proposals have filled policy gaps that were left by the administration of former Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican.
"Research is by its nature retrospective," said Ms. Burr, who is no relation to Elizabeth Burr. "This is really a commentary of what happened before we arrived here in the current administration and does not take into account what's happened in the last two years."
In addition to critiquing the state's approach to improving teacher quality and raising student achievement, the report, titled "Crucial Pieces in California Education 2000: Are the Reform Pieces Fitting Together?," also calls on the state to make preschool programs more streamlined and accessible to all youngsters.
As an unintended result of Mr. Wilson's class-size-reduction initiative, preschools have been drained of some of their best instructors, Elizabeth Burr said. The plan to lower class sizes in the early grades, while popular with the public, has also been panned by critics who say the policy has created a demand for underqualified teachers and exacerbated the space crunch in many schools throughout the state.
"Governor Wilson implemented this program so quickly, and it had all of these negative effects," Ms. Burr of PACE said. "There needs to be more of an effort to stand back and look at the big picture."
The report's authors and some lawmakers agree that the current effort by a joint legislative committee to draft a master plan for K-12 education in California, similar to the existing long-range plan for the higher education system, is a positive step toward knitting the varied education programs together into a more coherent whole.
Sen. Deirdre "Dede" Alpert, the state legislator who chairs the Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education, said the panel hoped to release the broad principles for the plan later this month, and to complete it over the course of the next year.
"It's like we've tried to do 9,000 things at the same moment without thinking about how they interrelate," Ms. Alpert said. "We know we need to have some kind of plan in place. It will really help us to stop micromanaging."
Vol. 19, Issue 39, Page 19