SF, Oakland want school accountability reform


The nine districts, which include San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles, aren't waiting for the state to propose reforms to education. They're going directly to the top -- the Department of Education -- because they think they can do better.

In California, students take a standardized test to measure how well their schools are doing when teaching reading and math. Those schools not doing well have been penalized. That's what the old No Child Left Behind Act dictated.

But states have long wanted to ditch it. Arun Ramanathan is with Ed Trust West, an education advocacy group in Oakland. "Folks don't think the targets make sense anymore," he said.

So states have been coming up with new and more robust ways to hold schools accountable. On Thursday nine school districts in California decided to join in, presenting themselves as CORE, which stands for California Office to Reform Education.

These districts want to rely on standardized tests while also taking into account other factors like the number of suspensions, absences, the graduation rate and the role parents and the community play to improve a school.

"I want to have people that can communicate. I want people that are creative. I want people that can work on a team. I want somebody that's a critical thinker. The Common Core State Standards that we're working to implement does all of that," San Francisco Unified Superintendent Richard Carranza said.

Evaluating teachers would also be part of the accountability process. "They're going to have to figure out the evaluation process. They're going to have to talk to their local unions," Ramanathan said.

But Governor Jerry Brown and the state Board of Education have been hesitant to tie teachers' evaluation to student test scores. Because of that, California is only one of two states -- Iowa being the other -- that have not been given a waiver from the penalties of No Child Left Behind.

As a result these districts can't spend federal funds on programs that would make a difference to improve the performance of their schools.

"They have some admirable goals involved, but when it comes to evaluation and we get down to the particulars, that's where we'll have to sit down and go over it with a fine-toothed comb and find out whether or not any of it fits with what we can do," said Dennis Kelly from United Educators of San Francisco.

The nine districts will present the CORE plan and request a waiver in the next month for federal review and they don't need the blessing from the unions. And neither the state Board of Education nor Governor Brown will be able to stop them from submitting their proposal.

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