Gov. Schwarzenegger Has Chance to Tie Teachers to Student Performance and Push Charters

My new column on President Obama’s “Race to the Top” plan and California’s desire for the federal funds:

Gov. Schwarzenegger should also latch on to President Obama’s call for more charter schools. Last week on CNN, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “I’m a fan of good charters. And the more we’re creating options and new opportunities for parents, particularly in historically underserved communities, we think that’s very, very important….You have to give these charter school operators real autonomy. These are, by definition, educated — educated entrepreneurs, education entrepreneurs and innovators. You have to free them from the bureaucracy.”

As last week’s state test scored showed, many of the state’s poorest communities would greatly benefit if charter schools were allowed to compete with the failing public schools. Across California in 2009, 50 percent of children were proficient or above in English, up from 46 percent the year before. In Math, 46 percent of students were proficient, a gain of three points.

Yet, those already mediocre numbers are much lower for disadvantaged kids. Only 36 percent of economically-disadvantaged students scored proficient in English and 37 percent of economically-disadvantaged students were proficient in math.

This “achievement gap” is crushing the futures of many poor and minority students. Only 37 percent of the California’s African-American and Hispanic students are proficient or above in English – 31 points behind white students and 36 points behind Asian students. As the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jill Tucker recently wrote, “Based on the rate of improvement from 2003 to 2009, it would take up to 105 years to close the white/Hispanic achievement gap and at least 189 years to close the white/black gap, which has failed to narrow by even a point in English since 2003.”

To help these kids, Schwarzenegger needs to revamp many of the state’s worst schools. California uses a “similar schools ranking,” which compares schools based on how their student achievement scores measure up to 100 schools that are similar in size and makeup. Going forward, if a school is at the bottom of those “similar schools rankings” and has failed to meet adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind requirements for five years, the school should immediately be restructured. Charter schools should be allowed to bid to manage these schools, as President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have previously suggested.

In California, charter schools are already successfully serving the most disadvantaged students. If you look at test scores in public schools where more than 70 percent of children qualify for the free lunch program, charter schools operate 12 of the state’s 15 top performing schools.

With Secretary Duncan traveling the country with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to promote “Race to the Top” and charter schools, Gov. Schwarzenegger has an opportunity to implement the type of bipartisan reforms that many thought he’d bring years ago. Getting California to evaluate its teachers, at least in part, on how much their students improve and replacing failing schools with charters are two reforms that can start to fix a public school system that continues to fail way too many kids.

Full Column Here

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