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State Offers Some Relief For Schools

Cutbacks mandated in school visits, technology survey; new legislation sponsored to help schools.

Suspending school audits, postponing a school technology
survey and proposing a change in the way voters approve school bond measures
are just a few of the suggestions made by California’s State Superintendent of
Schools Jack O’Connell during his annual State of Education Address.

“The national economic downturn and the budget shortfall
facing our state are creating havoc in every one of California’s
schools and districts. Every teacher, every principal and every superintendent
I speak with wonders how we will make it through the next school year,” he

O’Connell predicted a current year reduction of $10 billion
for state schools, which would become effective immediately and would likely
result in larger classes and fewer classroom aides. He stressed the importance
of remaining flexible and innovative, adding that the current cuts could bring California
down to 50th place in the nation in per-student spending.

One of the changes O’Connell is implementing immediately is
the suspension of all non-mandated program audits, which should allow schools
to focus on student achievement instead of preparing for visits by
administrators. He has suspended the California School Technology Survey and is
limiting the data elements required in first year federal reporting.

He is also sponsoring legislation with Assemblywoman Julia
Brownley to place a major school bond on the next statewide ballot. He is also
working with State Senator Joe Simitian to lower the threshold for school
funding measures from two-thirds majority to 55 percent of the vote, citing the
failure of measures in Oakland, San
Carlos and Ojai that deprived schools of $14 million
for teachers and programs in the last election.


O’Connell will join district and county superintendents from
southern California Wednesday for
a budget “town hall meeting” in Pasadena.
The purpose of the town hall is to highlight the impact of the state budget
stalemate on and proposed cuts to public education.


The complete text of O’Connell’s State of Education

Good morning. Thank you all for being here.

Today in California
we face a defining moment for public education. We gather at a moment of great
uncertainty. But I want you to know that I stand before you today hopeful.
Hopeful for the future of our country, hopeful for California, and hopeful for
our public schools, even at this difficult time.

Yes, these times are turbulent with no clear skies ahead.
The national economic downturn and the budget shortfall facing our state are
creating havoc in every one of California's
schools and districts. Every teacher, every principal, and every superintendent
I speak with wonders how we will make it through the next school year.

Friends, the state of public education is precarious. Beyond
the immediate crisis, and even more alarming to me, is the long-term future of
our common education system. If we continue down the road we are on our public
schools and our state itself face certain, perhaps irreparable, damage.

Let's look at the immediate crisis: With more than half of
the school year completed, our schools are faced with staggering, immediate
budget cuts. The budget being negotiated may result in current-year reduction
to education funding of $10 billion. These cuts are nothing short of

Hayward Unified plans to lay off as many as 170 teachers and
increase class sizes from 20 to 32 students.

In Merced, as in
many other school districts, school bus transportation is on the chopping

In Lake Elsinore,
not only are veteran teachers being given incentives to retire, schools are
putting duct tape over light switches to save on electricity.

And on and on all over this state.

And as painful as these midyear cuts are, we can expect
worse over the next two years: Larger class sizes and fewer classroom aides.
Outdated textbooks, longer bus rides or no buses at all. Less support for
English learners and for our neediest schools. Fewer librarians, counselors and
nurses. Districts are choosing between hiring a math teacher and buying math
books. Most tragically, these cuts come at the same time that the need for
investment in better schools and more support services has grown.

The number of homeless students in our schools increased
nearly 19 percent in the 2006-07 school year, and we know that percentage is
rapidly growing. Hunger is also on the increase. Our schools served 28 million
more free school lunches in 2007-08 than the year before.  Historically,
subsidized school lunches have increased by 1 percent a year. Between September
2007 and September 2008, we saw an alarming 12 percent rise.

The students behind these percentages are the students who
need more time in school, not less, more adults on staff who care, not fewer.

We know downturns like this hit the most vulnerable among us
the hardest. It's the children in our schools struggling to learn the English
language or those who come from poverty or who live with a learning disability
that will be the first to feel the pain of cuts. Sadly, this comes after a
long-term California focus on
closing achievement gaps that is just now starting to show modest progress.

Let me be crystal clear, all of our progress as a
high-expectation state is at risk unless we commit ourselves now to being
innovative, flexible, and focused as never before. It is time for us to
prioritize and to focus on only those things we know are working to close the
achievement gap and help all students succeed.

So I call on my colleagues throughout the state, school
board members, superintendents, and partners in labor to think carefully as you
make these difficult funding decisions. There is no easy way to make the
reductions demanded on us; there will be no winners in this process. But I
implore you to keep the achievement gap in the forefront of your decision
making. Students of color, students who are poor, who are learning English, or
coping with learning disabilities need the assistance most. Equal cuts across a
school or district will be inequitably felt by them.

That is the lens I've asked my California Department of
Education colleagues to look through as we make cuts. As an example of our
serious effort to think differently, today I am announcing that effective
immediately we are suspending all non-mandated on-site monitoring visits for at
least one year. During these challenging times I want districts and schools to
focus every ounce of energy they have on improving student achievement, not on
preparing for program audits.

In addition, I have directed my staff to use the time and
resources they will save from not conducting on-site reviews to conduct a
top-to-bottom review of our compliance monitoring system. I want to see a
redesigned system that will focus the greatest attention on those schools that
need the most assistance. It should be based on student achievement results,
not bureaucratic agendas.

As part of this effort, I intend to work with Senate
President Pro tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, as well as
with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, to seek more flexibility in the way
we monitor and require state and federal funding to be spent. The emphasis
ought to be on what's working for students, not on bureaucratic processes.

With President Obama in office we have an opportunity for a
new federal-state relationship — one that sends support from Washington,
not just sanctions to our schools. It is time to bring harmony and restore
trust to our relationship with the federal Department of Education. I look
forward to working with Secretary Duncan and have great hopes for a more
responsive, more flexible relationship with this new administration.

When states have established effective accountability
systems, as we have in California
with the Academic Performance Index, the federal government should let states
work within those systems to hold schools accountable for student achievement.
We no longer need duplicative, overlapping, often contradictory accountability

And at the California Department of Education, we are
examining all our programs with an eye toward changes we can make to assist the
field during these difficult times. As an example, I've approved the immediate
suspension of the California School Technology Survey. For now, we will meet
our federal reporting obligations for technology without this survey that will
save many hours of work for our teachers and administrators. I have also
directed my staff to review the data submissions for the upcoming initial
release of our longitudinal data system — CALPADS.

Now, we cannot eliminate federal reporting, and we will not
eliminate critical data needed to assess the achievement gap — such as
graduation or dropout rates. But I have asked my staff to find relief for
school districts by making some data elements this first year optional, rather
than required. We have worked long and hard to finally reach this juncture of
having a longitudinal data system. While we must not turn the clock back on its
implementation, we must be mindful of how much new work school districts can
accomplish during these days of fiscal crisis.

Following the lead of our president, I intend to work with
the Legislature and Governor to get additional dollars into our classrooms as
quickly as possible. 

First, I am supporting legislation, SCA 6 by state Senator
Joe Simitian, to lower the threshold for parcel taxes from the current
two-thirds majority to 55 percent. The legislative passage of this measure
should be tied to any budget agreement that cuts funding to our schools.

Local voters invest in local schools. Time and again they
have shown us that. In the November election we saw wide public support for
parcel taxes to support schools. Seventeen out of 21 parcel tax measures were
approved, remarkable in light of these difficult times. But in three cities —
Oakland, San Carlos, and Ojai — parcel tax measures won large majorities but
fell short of the two-thirds vote requirement, depriving schools of nearly $14
million to support teachers and fund important educational programs. This was a
serious blow to those districts in a time of great fiscal distress.

I am also sponsoring legislation by my good friend, Chair of
the Assembly Education Committee Julia Brownley, to place a major school
facilities bond on the next statewide ballot. I expect a special election this
year, and this bond measure should be on it. This measure would create jobs. It
would help stimulate the construction of schools designed for 21st century
learning as well as energy efficient, high-performing “green” schools that
would help tomorrow's students compete and achieve.

I also stand ready to work with the Governor and Legislators
to expedite any federal economic stimulus dollars that come to California
to create jobs by funding school facilities projects. Multiple billions in new
projects are ready to go right now in California,
and every $10 billion spent on school construction will create more than
175,000 jobs. Also, to make sure that money received from the stimulus gets
into the hands of school and districts as quickly as possible, I've created a
cross-departmental team that is preparing now so we can immediately get
assistance dollars out the door.

Economics tells us the best way to deal with a downturn is
to invest and plan for the inevitable uptick. So right now, let's envision and
plan for schools that are not only friendly to our environment and our
communities but that are truly designed for the 21st century learning needs of
our students.  Let's plan for schools that are built based on educational
needs, not on funding constraints. This economy will recover, and school
construction will help to revive it.

And let's also face this fact: If we truly share the belief
that all students can meet high standards, then we must recognize that it
simply costs more to help some students meet our high expectations. It costs
the system more to educate a child learning to speak the English language. It
costs the system more to educate a student with special education needs. It
costs the system more to educate children who come from poverty.

For many years we have recognized this truth obliquely, by
creating a Byzantine system of categorical programs that are narrowly tailored
to specific student needs. However, the state budget crisis is forcing us to
think differently about school funding. Let's use this as an opportunity to
construct a method of funding that links dollars more directly to individual
students' needs while we continue to hold schools accountable for each
student's success.

If we don't do this, we will see the achievement gap widen.
Unless we are willing to make major revisions to our current structure,
funding, and overall commitment to public education, I fear for the future of
our state and so should you.

Now, let's look at our current commitment to public
education. A new study by Education Week found that based on data from 2006, California's
per-student spending ranks us a dismal 47th in the country. We would have to
increase our spending by almost $2,400 per student — or 31 percent — simply to
reach the national average. Keep in mind, this ranking was done before the
current budget cuts were calculated. And if the current cuts being discussed
are enacted, we would likely drop to 50th in the nation.

Let me add that the same Education Week study found we rank
37th among states in the percentage of taxable resources spent on education.

We can and we must do better. Major new investments in our
education system aren't just desirable for those of us who work in and around
schools. They are critical to overcoming the economic doldrums we face today.
They are critical to every aspect of our future in California.

Now as you know, I believe in data driven decision making,
and I look to research to draw conclusions. So it's important to note that the
“Getting Down to Facts” study wasn't the only research project to conclude that
we need significantly more funding. The Governor's thoughtful and deliberate
Committee on Education Excellence reached the same conclusion. And a recent
finding by the respected research firm MGT of America confirmed what most of us
in education have always intuitively known: money invested in our schools pays

Let me give you an example. Five years after the state of Maryland
increased spending by $2 billion — nearly $2,500 per pupil — students made
remarkable gains in reading and math. In fact, for every additional $1,000
spent per student, there was a significant increase in pass rates in both
subjects. The improvement was targeted to provide greater academic equity.

The research is clear; both education reforms and
significantly increased investments are necessary. We just need to find the
political will to make it a reality.

So we must not wait to institute reform and to invest more
and invest more wisely. The time of change is upon us and we must seize it.

I recognize that what I am asking for is greater investment
at a time when the state is virtually broke. Californians and educators are
being asked to make greater sacrifices at a time when we are already feeling
stretched. And I am asking you to willingly embrace major change at a time when
all of America
is greatly averse to risk.

Let me tell you why we must do these things, and why I
believe we can.

First, unless we rethink our investment in public education
and specifically target our resources to closing the achievement gap, we'll see
a future in California where even
those who “have” live with less: fewer services, less safety, a society with
constrained growth and lack of innovation. Those who “have not” will be in the
majority, suffering lack of jobs, lack of support, and lack of the hope and
opportunity that have for so long defined our state.

We will see solidified a two-tiered system of education that
will become untenable. Untenable in the sense that a student's future could be
determined more by his zip code than his or her individual determination to
learn. Families who struggle financially will be left with a substandard system
— one that cannot possibly prepare their children to compete in a challenging
global economy. And to be clear, those children left behind will be the
backbone of our future workforce. If they do not succeed in this global
economy, the impact on all Californians will be devastating.

Now, this is not the future I expect for California.
But it will be our future unless we all take specific actions to change our
current trajectory. We must strike a grand bargain, and bring together those
who call for real reform and those who call for real funding. We must say,
“You're both right.” And we must do both.

On the reform side, it is time to seriously reconsider
things like the structure of our modern high schools, the way we train our
teachers, and the way in which we evaluate our effectiveness. These aren't
minor fixes to a system but a true top-to-bottom rethinking.

The good news is that an enormous amount of good thinking
has already been done by premier researchers throughout the country in the
“Getting Down to Facts” research, by the Governor's Committee on Educational
Excellence and by my statewide P-16 Council. Today's crisis provides us an
opportunity to permanently improve ourselves for tomorrow. The key now is to
use this time to embrace these reforms and make them work for California.

At the same time, we must expect a different commitment from
the citizens of California. We
know that more money alone will not get us what we need. There is simply no
doubt that education reform is necessary. But it's equally true that reform
without significant new investment will not work either. We will never be the
great state our citizens deserve unless we invest in our future.

I'm optimistic that this can be done. I believe that, just
as parents who come to this country sacrifice everything for the education of
their children, the public in this time of difficulty will also sacrifice for
education because education is the one thing that will secure our future.

I am also optimistic because even during this time of crisis
all over California there are
thousands of educators bringing innovation, creativity, energy, and heart into
our schools and classrooms: Creative teachers like Mark Teeters, who introduced
me today. Mark keeps his students engaged and connected with songs in languages
from Hungarian to Hebrew.

I'm optimistic because even in this difficult year we've
continued to make notable progress:

In fact, since 2003 — the first year all of our statewide
tests were aligned to California's rigorous standards — more than half a
million more California students have become proficient in English-language
arts and more than 415,000 additional students have become proficient in math.

Fifty-four percent of schools in California
made their Academic Progress Index or API growth targets this past year, an
increase of nearly 18 percent from 2007. These gains are particularly
impressive given that for the second year in a row, schools were required to
narrow their achievement gap in order to make API targets.

I'm also keenly interested when looking at numbers like
these to see the progress of the student at the bottom of the scale. There too
we have good news. In 2002, 35 percent of our students were far-below or below
basic in English-language arts. But by 2008 that number had dropped to less
than than 25 percent, almost a 30 percent decrease.

In 2008, we also continued to see an increase in the number
of high school seniors taking college entrance exams.

Also in 2008, our state took a major step forward in
improving the accuracy of dropout and graduation counts for the first time
using student-level data. This will increase accountability and, most
importantly, help educators to track students and keep them from dropping out.

Last year I stood here and laid out an ambitious,
comprehensive plan for addressing the achievement gap that threatens the future
of far too many California

My statewide P-16 Council, a dedicated group of educators,
philanthropists, researchers, and community and business leaders, made 14
specific recommendations for what the state can do to assist schools and
districts in closing the achievement gap. These recommendations were not
received and shelved as happens with too many reports in Sacramento.
Today I am pleased to report that many of these recommendations have been fully
implemented. We are making great progress on the rest, and all will be

Let me highlight just some of the progress my department has
made in collaboration with the P-16 Council, legislators, the Governor, State
Board of Education, and educators throughout this state.

To improve the quality of preschool in California
and to lay the foundation for high-quality preschool for all, I sponsored and
the Governor signed two major bills.

To strengthen teacher professional development on the use of
data to improve instructional practices, I sponsored and the Governor signed a
bill to amend the state's teacher professional development program.

To provide better data on conditions and issues related to
race and the achievement gap, my department developed a school climate survey
for students and staff. An expert roundtable also has been selected to develop
a framework for delivering culturally relevant professional development for all
school personnel.

We also significantly altered our school awards program, for
the first time requiring that schools named a CaliforniaDistinguishedSchool
must also demonstrate progress in closing their achievement gaps. And instead
of requiring cumbersome, pro-forma applications for this honor, we are asking
applicants to provide us with their signature practice for closing their
achievement gaps so we can share proven practices throughout the state. This is
a small but important step in our effort to move the California Department of
Education from a compliance organization to a broker of expertise.

The Council also recognized that partnerships are critical
to our work. In response, based on the work of a broad coalition, the CDE will
make available this spring a Resource Kit for Partnerships to Close the
Achievement Gap. This tool will give practical and specific recommendations for
how communities can come together to better serve the whole child.

I'm also very proud of my department's cutting-edge,
Web-based professional development tool for middle school educators, which is
called “Taking Center Stage Act II.” Using this Web portal, a teacher in Siskiyou
County, for example, can observe a
teacher in Imperial County
modeling effective practices in the classroom. Teachers from all over the state
and nation have benefited from this innovation, and the community of middle
school educators has been strengthened to the great benefit of their students.

We are also making great progress on our Brokers of
Expertise project and intend to deliver a full-scale model by the end of my
term for sharing best practices in revolutionary ways and creating statewide
communities of practice.

It is because of these positive indicators that I remain
optimistic. It is because I spend so much time in our schools with our
students, teachers, and dedicated staff that I know the unlimited potential we
have. But it is for those same reasons that I'm saddened when I think of what
we provide our system vs. what our children deserve.

These times call on all of us — as individuals, as parents,
and as educators and policymakers — to give more than we thought we were able
to give. As we move from a society of seemingly limitless abundance to a time
of more limited means, we must look to the great wisdom of those who enshrined
in our Constitution the commitment to a system of common public schools as the
highest priority of our government. That was, and remains, a remarkable idea,
an amazing commitment to the next generation.

Now our mission must be to step up and do what it takes to
keep our end of that commitment — for ourselves and our posterity. In a world
that is increasingly flat, “what it will take” becomes more complex and
challenging by the day. But we must not retreat from these challenges. As
President Obama said, “we must pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off…” and
carry on by fulfilling the promise our forbearers had the courage to make.

In our schools, it is the creativity and the dedication of
our educators that will move us forward through this time. It is the extra
sacrifice of parents. It is the determination of neighbors who care about their
schools, whether or not their own children attend them. It is the willingness
of Californians to embrace all students as their students, to be responsible
for the future they face, and the future they will make for us all.

Today more than ever our students need us. In difficult
times, our schools provide safe and stable environments. Even as we face our
own challenges, our schools can be that place where children prepare for and
believe in a better future. We can help by staying focused on student
achievement. We can help by expecting the very best from our students, not just
‘under the circumstances,' but because we truly believe they deserve and shall
have that brighter day.

Earlier I described the state of education as precarious,
because a precarious state is a state that is teetering, in need of holding
steady. I have faith Californians will get through this next difficult year and
hold our schools steady no matter what it takes. More importantly, if California
is willing, we can head down a different road, create for our state a more
positive future, where every child has options, and where every child can
succeed. I am willing to take this road. I hope you will join me.

Thank you.



State Offers Some Relief For Schools

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