Amid teacher unrest, uproar over its charter school sector, and frustration with the way Californa measures school success, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday appointed Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, one of the nation’s preeminent education scholars, to chair the state’s board of education.
Darling-Hammond is the president of the Learning Policy Institute, a K-12 think tank, and has written several books and studies. She replaces Michael Kirst, who chaired the board during former Gov. Jerry Brown’s first term and his last two terms. Kirst and Darling-Hammond align on many education issues and many observers saw her appointment as a sign that Newsom will not stray far from Brown’s agenda.
California serves more than six million students, about one out of every 8 of America’s students. More than three-fourths of those students are students of color. The state’s department of education has been under attack in recent years for the ways it has decided to hold schools accountable and for the amount of money it provides its districts, many of which are sacked with skyrocketing pension debt.
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the state passed down many powers to its 977 school districts to evaluate their schools and spend money as they would like. The state outsourced to a newly created state agency the task of working with its worst-performing schools.
The appointed board and the elected superintendent have sparred in the past over what sort of data to collect from schools, how to display that data to the public, and what to do with that data in order to figure out how to distribute state and federal money. In last year’s election, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, a former school board member and city councilman, was elected as the state’s superintendent of public instruction.
Adding to the volatile climate surrounding education, Los Angeles teachers went on strike late last month over, among other things, pay, classroom size, and school support staff and Oakland’s teachers have threatened to soon also go on strike over similar issues.
Darling-Hammond, who will be the state’s first black state chief, lives down the street from Kirst, also a Stanford professor. She was instrumental in shaping many of the former governor’s policies on school choice, school improvement and school spending.
“This is a critical moment in California education,” Darling-Hammond said in an interview with EdSource. Brown and Kirst “laid a strong foundation for a new approach to 21st century learning.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.