Scant Consensus Emerges From California Summit

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A two-day education summit in San Francisco last week has given California lawmakers a host of options but no consensus on how to cure the woes of the nation's largest state school system.

Organized by Speaker of the House Willie L. Brown Jr., the summit quickly became a festival for touting diverse approaches to school reform.

Some participants discussed the importance of reconsidering local property-tax limitations, for example, while some highlighted the burgeoning immigrant population. Others pointed to burdensome state regulations as the cause of many school problems.

Gov. Pete Wilson, fresh from his own crime summit earlier in the month, did his best to tie the themes of the two meetings together. State officials, he said, must find ways to insure classroom safety "before we do anything else.''

Technology became a major topic of discussion on the eve of the conference, as Pacific Bell announced a $100 million program to begin giving most of the schools in the state access to advanced telecommunications services. (See story, page 6.)

Other groups also pegged the release of their education campaigns to coincide with the summit.

Children Now, a child-advocacy group, issued a report "calling on state legislators and education leaders to make bold changes throughout California's school system that promote educational success for all of California's children.''

Earlier, California Tomorrow, a research group, issued a voluminous report detailing lessons learned from restructured schools around the state.

In addition, the California Teachers Assocation issued a comprehensive reform plan calling for limits on administrative spending, full federal funding of Head Start, and a commitment from business leaders to "become much more involved in working with the schools instead of merely complaining about them.''

The C.T.A. emphasized that its plan was designed "by those who know students and education best--teachers and parents.''

The group said its plan was the result "of nearly 5,000 recommendations from tens of thousands of California teachers, with input from parents, students, and civic and business leaders.''

Substantive Progress Seen

Yet, beyond the rhetoric about whose plan was the most inclusive or insightful, the summit also included some substantive progress that even veteran lawmakers said was surprising.

The C.T.A., for example, said it was willing to discuss open-enrollment programs within public schools and how the state should award charter-school permits--both causes that the powerful teachers' union had previously opposed.

"There were some compelling arguments on combining services to children and agreement that the conditions of children have deteriorated greatly,'' added Charles D. Binderup, the superintendent of the Tule Lake Unified School District.

Such issues as crime in schools, student achievement, and teacher training also received considerable attention.

The firsthand views of administrators, teachers, and parents--several of whom were invited to discuss the reform presentations--were important, officials said.

"There is a hunger out there by people to fix the schools,'' Speaker Brown said. "Maybe the summit can turn that hunger into a political force.''

'Practitioner's Point of View'

Governor Wilson, who is up for re-election this year, has asked the Education Commission of the States to help develop a bipartisan school-reform plan by the fall. He attended both days of the session, spending time with lawmakers who, observers said, also appeared to be serious about dealing with school issues.

"It's my hope that this summit will give the legislators a practitioner's point of view of what education is like in 1994,'' said Rudy Castruita, the superintendent of the Santa Ana schools and the president of the Association of California Urban School Districts.

Mr. Castruita also offered a five-year plan calling for annual increases of $200 in per-pupil spending.

Vol. 13, Issue 22

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