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Villaraigosa criticizes new school accountability system

Sarah Favot | September 15, 2016

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A panel discussion at Cal State Long Beach moderated by Judy Lin of CALmatters, with former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, Carl Cohn and Marquita Grenot-Scheyer.

Former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who once attempted to take over LA Unified and later founded a public school network, criticized the state’s new accountability system Wednesday at a panel discussion with education experts.

The event, “A for Accountability: A Report Card on California’s New Public-School Assessments,” was sponsored by CALmatters, Southern California News Group and Cal State Long Beach.

About 100 people, many educators, attended the panel discussion in Long Beach.

The State Board of Education last week unanimously approved a new accountability system for schools, replacing the Academic Performance Index, which assigned a single number to schools that was largely based on standardized test scores. The new system will use a number of indicators like academic progress, college and career readiness, school climate and parent engagement to determine how schools are performing. Many details must still be worked out, including how each indicator will be measured. The new system was the topic of the panel discussion.

Since his term as mayor expired three years ago, Villaraigosa has remained in the public eye, stumping for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and making appearances at events like a discussion in June at The Commonwealth Club. He is expected to run for governor in 2018.

Other panelists included state Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, former longtime Long Beach Unified Superintendent Carl Cohn, who is now executive director of California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, and Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, assistant vice chancellor for teacher education and public school programs for California State University’s Office of the Chancellor.

Villaraigosa served as mayor from 2005 to 2013. He won approval from the legislature to take control of LA Unified from the school board but lost the battle in the courts. He founded the nonprofit school turnaround initiative Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a network of 19 schools in Boyle Heights, South LA and Watts. He has also raised millions of dollars for school board candidates he has supported.

“For primary school kids and for middle school kids and for high school kids and when you go to college, you get a grade. Here, you get colors. The colors of the rainbow, and one could argue they roughly represent grades,” Villaraigosa said of the state’s new accountability system.

“If it’s good enough for kids, why isn’t it good enough for schools? Why can’t we have a clearer assessment of how well our schools are doing?

“This measurement mish-mash that we have here, that took three years to implement or at least get a proposal, it doesn’t really tell you how an individual school is doing.”

Grenot-Scheyer said she didn’t mind the color-coded report card, but in order to judge the system, she needed more time to see how it will work.

“I’m holding off on a grade, but I like what I’m looking at,” she said.

O’Donnell said he liked the new system but agreed that three years to get to this point was probably too long.

“We’re going to have a new system that tells how schools are doing different things,” he said.

Cohn said he liked the direction the state board is taking.

CALmatters reporter Judy Lin, who moderated the discussion, asked about Gov. Jerry Brown’s comments that the Local Control Funding Formula he championed shouldn’t be judged by whether schools are able to close the achievement gap under the new funding formula.

Cohn pointed to a study by UC Berkeley’s Rucker Johnson that showed since the 1970s it has become more difficult to close the achievement gap due to federal policies that don’t have anything to do with education.

“I’m fine with talking about the gap as long as we understand the complexities that are involved and how our national policies have not made it any easier to close the gap,” Cohn said, receiving applause from the audience.

Villaraigosa said he agrees that the achievement gap is very difficult to overcome.

“When I hear the excuses and that’s what they are, these kids can’t learn because they’re English language learners, because they’re foster kids, because they’re poor, because x, y, z, I tell people you’re talking about me. I can read and write,” he said. “We do need to have the fierce urgency of now.”

Villaraigosa and O’Donnell had some back and forth exchanges and disagreements on various points, including Vergara vs. California, the landmark lawsuit challenging teacher tenure and other protections.

“I think Vergara was a fraud promulgated by those who wish to get rid of public education,” O’Donnell said.

“I take a different view,” Villaraigosa said. He said he believes the vast majority of teachers are hard-working, but he thinks two years of probation is too short for new teachers.

“I think it’s a broad brush statement, frankly, that it’s an anti-union effort,” he said. “I’ve supported unions my whole life.”

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