State Board of Education president’s bold plan to improve California’s schools
LA School Report | June 10, 2016
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By Judy Lin
One by one, dozens of blacks and Latinos lined up behind a microphone placed before the state school board appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Spanish-speaking mothers pleaded for the 10-member panel to evaluate schools based on parent involvement because they have felt unwelcome at their children’s schools. African-American students asked the state to compile school suspension and absenteeism rates because those problems cause students to fall behind on schoolwork, feel alienated by teachers and struggle to find their self worth.
“Please, we just want to make sure that it is a defining factor in the way you measure the success of schools,” George Green, a Sacramento high school student, said at the meeting in March.
How the state will close a staggering academic performance gap between students from poor communities and those in wealthier pockets that is nearly the worst in America rests disproportionately on State Board of Education President Michael Kirst. The 76-year-old retired Stanford University professor has served four decades as one of Brown’s closest advisors and witnessed how difficult it is to improve classroom learning.
Together, he and the governor have devised a dramatic transformation of the nation’s largest public school system that calls for dismantling decades of centralized state reporting and promoting teacher autonomy. It’s an experiment of California proportions that even its key architect doesn’t know how it will play out for millions of disadvantaged children.
“Even though this is my 52nd year in educational policy,” Kirst said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”