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OPINION: Time For Gov. Brown To Go Big, Bold & Brave On Education

Columnist Colleen O'Connor says Gov. Jerry Brown needs to let educators experiment through more local control to help California develop the skilled employees ready for the changing workforce.

Gov. Jerry Brown is a fan of local control.

He has shown that in the relocation of state prisoners to the county jails (primarily due to a court mandate to eliminate overcrowding in the state prisons).

And next week, he will unveil his proposed budget—fixating on more local control of schools.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Brown plans “extensive changes” to school funding in his 2013-14 budget. Specifically, he wants more money to benefit those schools with the highest percentage of low-income and non-English speaking students. More money for Compton. Less money for Beverly Hills.

About one in two California students comes from a low-income family. About 1 in 4 is an English Language learner. And about 1 in 10 receives special education services. 

Thus, Brown’s proposal represents a major shift of funds to those students and their districts. 

To make the changes more palatable, Brown will suggest a bit more local control, the elimination of dozens of unnecessary state mandates and the elimination of some bureaucratic fiefdoms.

All of this is long overdue, but little will change the fossilized state of education in California. Nor does it address the enormous cost that an undereducated, underskilled and unemployed workforce places on California’s taxpayers.

California, once a great engine for change, is behind the times.

The state currently spends more—and gets less—than most states for its education dollars.

Look at the needs for remedial work at California colleges and universities. University of California (UC) freshmen arrive with little, if any, need for remediation in math or writing.

However, about 50 percent of the California State University (CSU) freshmen require remedial work, and nearly 90 percent of community college freshmen need remediation in both math and writing.

How to fix that? More money is not the final answer. More local control is. 

The state cannot run the schools from afar. Each has distinctive needs, distinctive demographics and distinctive macro problems that need answering.

Beverly Hills probably has little interaction or understanding of the issues facing Compton—and vice versa.

Hence, Brown needs more “local, local, local” help. The state should set the minimum standards, but simultaneously encourage pilot projects, new ideas, internships and wider use of the Internet for online education.

During his first tenure as governor, Brown created the California Conservation Corps—to introduce inner-city students to hard work in the state forests. He called it "a combination Jesuit seminary, Israeli kibbutz and Marine Corps boot camp." It still thrives.

The governor’s Jesuit-trained brain can’t think of a solution to every problem. Let the teachers, their school boards and their administrators try for better solutions.

So what if they falter? Let’s try for real change.

Reward those chancellors and school principals who are willing to adapt. Willing to embrace technology. And willing to accept performance-based outcomes as part of their job. Give them more room to experiment.

What works in San Diego may not work in San Bernardino. The demands are different, but the motivations to succeed are the same.

Let them create a seamless process from education to a meaningful job.

Some prototypes already exist, such as UC San Diego’s UniversityLink—a package deal that works through a well-structured path— from high school, to community college to a four-year degree and a job.

Cut the cost of higher education with online courses. Or endorse the bills of Assemblyman Don Logue and State Senate President Darryl Steinberg. The former wants to create a bachelor’s degree for $10,000 and Steinberg has already won approval for free digital textbooks.

With the approval of California’s health care marketplace, new and greater needs will arise for health care and IT specialists. Doctors, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, radiology techs, physical therapists, etc. will all be in short supply. While some need UC training, why can’t the community colleges take up the challenge for the others?

California needs jobs for its citizens.

Jobs mean income, income means revenue for the state—both of which help reduce the cost for unemployment benefits. And currently, the California Unemployment Trust Fund is insolvent. And it has been since 2009 (PDF).

Time for more ideas like the California Conservation Corps.

Time now for more local ideas, internships, online learning and pilot projects.

Go big, bold and brave, Governor. And reward those educators who do the same.

Gregory Brittain January 08, 2013 at 06:51 AM
More results 4. “According to a recent report by the not-for-profit testing organization, ACT, only 22 percent of U.S. high school students met “college ready” standards in all of their core subjects; these figures are even lower for Hispanic and African-American students. The College Board reported that even among the narrower cohort of college-bound seniors, only 43 percent met college-ready standards. This means that, upon graduating high school, more than 50% of college-bound students need to take remedial classes in one or more subjects, though a far lower percentage actually do.” In other words, after 13 years of government “education,” “50% of college-bound students need to take remedial classes.” 5. “Despite high U.S. unemployment, and far higher under-employment, major U.S. employers cannot find qualified American applicants to fill their job openings. For instance, 63% of aerospace and life science firms report shortages of qualified workers.” 6. “75% of U.S. citizens ages 17-24 cannot pass military entrance exams because they are not physically fit, have criminal records, or because they lack critical skills needed in modern warfare. In addition, 30% of those who do graduate high school still lack the basic math, science, and English competency to pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.”
Gregory Brittain January 08, 2013 at 06:52 AM
In California, “CA public school teachers the highest paid in the nation. CA students rank 48th in math achievement, 49th in reading.” http://www.foxandhoundsdaily.com/2012/09/breaking-bad-california-vs-the-other-states/ The number of administrators at the UC and CSU systems has grown by 212% since 1993. http://www.foxandhoundsdaily.com/2012/05/can-california-be-fixed/
Gregory Brittain January 08, 2013 at 06:56 AM
In 1993, the Washington DC government run schools were not good enough for Chelsea Clinton. In 2009, the Washington DC government run schools were not good enough for Obama’s daughters. How long will the Washington DC government run schools be good enough for the children whose parents cannot afford to send them to private school? BTW, Obama killed a program to provide K-12 student aid to allow some poor children in DC to attend private school like Obama’s daughters. As always, some animals are more equal than others.
TVOR January 08, 2013 at 09:07 PM
All you gotta be is a female minority and you got it made.
Antonio January 09, 2013 at 03:31 AM
Not just education but health care costs are far outstripping inflation. There doesn't appear to be any cost control. We need incentives for student performance and for cost control. I notice a lot of current and retired educators are elected to school boards. I think the state should take the lead on public school cost control. But the people who make the rules (laws) are politicians and they have a built in bias to give their constituents things.

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