School & District Management Opinion

Jerry Brown Puts the Brakes on Test-Driven Reform

By Anthony Cody — October 09, 2011 1 min read
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Jerry Brown is perhaps the most powerful leader in our country who actually understands what has happened to our schools as a result of standards-based data-driven reform. In a move that signals exactly what should be done with the moribund No Child Left Behind in Congress, Brown has issued a veto of a California law, SB 547, that revamped the state’s similarly flawed accountability system.

Governor Brown first made waves regarding education when, as State Attorney General, he wrote a scathing letter to Arne Duncan in response to Race to the Top.

He sent another strong signal this spring, when his May Budget Outline made it clear he feels testing is out of control. He wrote then:

Testing takes huge amounts of time from classroom instruction. Data collection requirements are cumbersome and do not provide timely - and therefore usable - information back to schools. Teachers are forced to cub their own creativity and engagement with students as they focus on teaching to the test. State and federal administrators continue to centralize teaching authority far from the classroom.

In vetoing SB 547, Brown has taken the strongest stance yet. His entire statement is available here, at the Answer Sheet blog. The proposed law,Senate Bill 547 was drafted to mitigate some of the more onerous aspects of the state’s Academic Performance Index (API) system, replacing it with something called the Education Quality Index. It appears that this index would score schools based not only on test scores, but also graduation rates, college preparedness and career readiness. Governor Brown asserted, however, that these changes did not go nearly far enough. He wrote,

SB547 nowhere mentions good character or love of learning. It does allude to student excitement and creativity, but does not take these qualities seriously because they can't be placed in a data stream. Lost in the bill's turgid mandates is any recognition that quality is fundamentally different from quantity.

Brown made it clear where his concerns lie:

...while SB547 attempts to improve the API, it relies on the same quantitative and standardized paradigm at the heart of the current system. The criticism of the API is that it has led schools to focus too narrowly on tested subjects and ignore other subjects and matters that are vital to a well-rounded education. SB547 certainly would add more things to measure, but it is doubtful that it would actually improve our schools. Adding more speedometers to a broken car won't turn it into a high-performance machine.
Over the last 50 years, academic "experts" have subjected California to unceasing pedagogical change and experimentation. The current fashion is to collect endless quantitative data to populate ever-changing indicators of performance to distinguish the educational "good" from the education "bad." Instead of recognizing that perhaps we have reached testing nirvana, editorialists and academics alike call for ever more measurement "visions and revisions."

But Brown went farther still. He concluded his statement by challenging lawmakers to look at school quality in a whole new light.

There are other ways to improve our schools --- to indeed focus on quality. What about a system that relies on locally convened panels to visit schools, observe teachers, interview students, and examine student work? Such a system wouldn't produce an API number, but it could improve the quality of our schools.

This last recommendation shows Brown has been paying close attention to other models of accountability such as those advanced by the Forum on Educational Accountability,

In this veto, Governor Brown has set a powerful example that should be followed by our representatives in Congress.
No Child Left Behind, just like California’s API system, is deeply flawed and manifestly unworkable. The Department of Education and Congress appear prepared to make superficial changes that leave the essential character of the law intact. In California we have a governor who is showing there is a very different approach. Let’s hope members of Congress are paying attention.

What do you think of Governor Brown’s veto of Senate Bill 547? Does this show how we should respond to the reauthorization of NCLB?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.