The tragic departure of Steve Jobs from his CEO position at Apple last week has prompted me to ask if he would please weigh in on how California should evaluate the effectiveness of their public schools. I think the direction we take today will answer the question of whether public schools can ever produce more thinkers and problem solvers like Mr. Jobs in the future.
SB547 would replace the current accountability system for public schools with a new one called the Education Quality Index (EQI). The new Senate Bill, sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, has just passed the state Senate and is now being debated in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, a strong supporter of the new legislation, says the new index will be broader than its predecessor and include metrics for graduation rates and college and career readiness. A new Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee will produce a component for elementary schools that has yet to be determined.
Since 1999, accountability to the public for the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the public education system has been ramping up. This is primarily a good thing—to expect schools to perform on some agreed upon metrics. Before the late 1990’s we only had a non-quantifiable guessing game about which schools did well in comparison to others.
The state currently uses the numerical system of 200-1000 to base how well at least 95 percent students in a public school do on the correct answers to the California Standards Test (CSTs) given each spring. The system of school accountability we rely on today is weak at best, but much better than what we had prior to 12 years ago. Defining effective schools today based on the academic progress of students takes in a very narrow band of skills and content—a very frustrating model to most educators.
With phrases like the Academic Performance Index (API) in California and Adequate Yearly Progress in the federal system of accountability, we have measured the quality of schools based on how well students do with “bubble” testing. At the expense of science, history-social science, performing arts, physical education, and career technical education, we measure a school’s academic worth primarily in just two content areas: mathematics and English-Language Arts.
Most of my colleagues in K-12 education have been hoping for a breakthrough at the federal level in rewriting the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, formerly the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was signed by Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Even though President Obama campaigned in 2007-08 on a significant rewrite of the flawed law, only some small progress has been made.
Now U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan will be issuing state-by-state waivers to states in line with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top reform agenda. Since there are federal sanctions for not making the Adequate Yearly Progress goal, upwards of eight out of 10 schools will be Program Improvement (PI) Schools. This new tough accountability is based on the accelerating percentage of students that must reach grade-level proficiency in math and language arts in the federal model of Adequate Yearly Progress.
The waiver process is a means to exempt schools in Palo Alto, Los Altos and Cupertino, which will become PI schools by next year or the year after—not a good thing for property values. I was unable to find out information whether California is in line for a possible federal waiver or not.
I would like to put my name in to the mix to become a member of the new Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee, but I would gladly give my seat up to individuals like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, John Doerr or Art de Geus, CEO of Synopsis.
I thank Mr. Jobs, who has made the quality of my life and my family’s life better by his brilliance and perseverance. He became the iconoclast for technological tools for the average person. Our schools today are producing too many individuals who think similarly and do not think divergently. The new schools accountability model (EQI) being created in our legislature can keep California at the forefront of innovation and creativity.