Gov.-Elect Davis Gets Early Start on Education Policy

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Owning up to his campaign promise to make education a top priority, Gov.-elect Gray Davis of California plans to convene a special legislative session on schools after he is sworn in next month.

While the details of the session are not final, Mr. Davis--who is set to become California's first Democratic governor in 16 years--has said he wants to study school accountability, teacher readiness, and preparation of all children to read by 3rd grade.

Gov.-Elect Gray Davis

Mr. Davis, the current lieutenant governor, has also wasted no time in naming a 13-member transition team to help refine his education agenda over the next two months. The group's first meeting was held last week in Los Angeles.

"There's a great deal of interest and excitement about having the governor-elect focus this early on education," said Rick Simpson, the staff director of the transition team. "But it's too soon to talk about what the scope of policy proposals will be."

If one thing is certain, however, it's that there is no lack of ideas on the K-12 front.

For instance, proponents of bilingual education want the state to ease its standards regarding the interpretation and enforcement of last June's voter-approved ban on most bilingual instruction.

Meanwhile, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin and the state teachers' unions have long lobbied to raise California's per-pupil spending rate, which is now 37th in the nation.

"Delaine has said that throwing money at schools is not the answer," her spokesman, Doug Stone, said. "But a plan over four or five years to get to the national average is a good goal."

Accountability Focus

But the issue that is likely to get the most attention is finding a way to hold schools more accountable for how their students perform.

Under outgoing Gov. Pete Wilson, California passed a law this year that aims to make sure students master grade-level skills before allowing them to move to the next grade. But the Republican governor vetoed a school accountability bill, saying the measure--which would have created a three-year, voluntary intervention program for low-performing schools--had "no teeth." Even so, the bill represented a bipartisan commitment by lawmakers to eventually set up a permanent school accountability system.

"The issue of accountability can be addressed in the session as long as [Mr. Davis] doesn't take on too many other big issues," said Democratic Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni, who served this year as the chairwoman of the education committee in the legislature's lower house. "We've already done a lot. It just lacks the Davis thumbprint."

During his campaign for governor against Republican Attorney General Daniel E. Lungren, Mr. Davis talked about evaluating California's 8,000 schools based on specific academic criteria. Schools that did not measure up would receive technical assistance or, ultimately, be taken over by the state. Mr. Davis also promoted peer evaluations and subject-area tests every five years for teachers--ideas that could rankle the teachers' unions.

"I'm sure the issue [of teacher testing] will come up, but there have been no specific details," said Bob Cherry, the associate executive director of training, information, and development for the California Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association. "Whatever is done, our concern is that teachers have input."

Today, it remains unclear which direction the soon-to-be governor will go.

"This new administration is really tight-lipped," Ms. Mazzoni said. "Everyone is having a hard time getting information."

Transition Team

Mr. Davis is also waiting for ideas from the panel he named earlier this month to help him craft a school agenda.

The group's charge is to help Mr. Davis "implement a higher-expectation approach to learning," a press release from his office said.

The panel's chairman is Barry Munitz, a former California State University chancellor and the current president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, which is located in Los Angeles. Also on the panel are Lois Tinson, the president of the CTA , and Mary Bergen, the president of the California Federation of Teachers, the affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. The diverse group also includes Reed Hastings, a millionaire businessman who dropped his push for a charter school ballot initiative this year after lawmakers greatly expanded the state's charter school law.

The lone school principal in the group is seen as an establishment outsider.

Nancy Ichinaga, who has been the principal of the 830-student Bennett/Kew Elementary School in Inglewood for 24 years, is happy to note that she is not a member of the Association of California School Administrators.

She also boasts that her school's success with a mostly low-income, minority population is due to phonics-based language instruction, concise achievement expectations, and benchmark tests every six to eight weeks.

What will her message to the panel be?

"Make sure all teaching of reading is done systematically in 1st grade," she said. "And kindergarten cannot be fun and games. They must learn letters, and that letters have sounds, and sounds form words."

Vol. 18, Issue 14, Pages 18, 21

Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as Gov.-Elect Davis Gets Early Start on Education Policy
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