State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig went on the offensive Wednesday against what he said was the misleading impression that a recent University of Chicago study shows that his educational reforms are doing nothing to help high schools with a majority of black and Latino students.
The study shows that standardized test scores for those high schools in the Los Angeles area dropped as a whole from 1976 to 1986 and that results of various reforms--not just the recent ones--are not apparent. However, Honig said the report did not focus enough on the rise the scores began to make in 1984 when his new emphasis on homework and tougher standards took effect.
Honig said it would be "devastating" if people decided reforms should be abandoned after hearing or reading news accounts of the study.
"Here people are working hard, scores are going up, it is making some progress. And all the public hears is that it is not making any progress," Honig said at a press conference at the Greater Los Angeles Press Club.
Gary Orfield, the University of Chicago political science professor who directed the controversial study, said Honig may be misinterpreting the report as an attack on the California reforms. The study is actually part of a national project about minority students, Orfield said in a telephone interview from Chicago.
"We really do not want to get into a spitting match with the state superintendent because we are not in the business of the evaluation of his reforms," Orfield said. "I think it's unfortunate he felt he had to react to something which was not a goal of our project."
Honig announced the latest California Assessment Program (CAP) results, underscoring his anger at the study.
Last spring's annual CAP scores for eighth-graders increased an average of six points each in essay writing, mathematics and science and four points each in reading and social sciences. Honig said junior high schools with a high percentage of black and Latino students followed the state pattern, although predominantly white schools continued to test higher.
"We are not moving fast enough to close that gap," he said.
Honig also cited 12th-grade test scores in reading and math for the 84 high schools in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties where black and Latino enrollment totals more than 50%.
He said minority schools increased 1.9 points in reading to 56.5 (out of a possible 100) over the last three years, compared to 1.4 points to 62.4 for all area high schools; math scores rose 2.5 points to 61.2 at minority schools, compared to 2.8 points to 68.8 at all area schools.
Honig added that about a third of California schools show no or too little improvement in test scores but that many of these are not minority schools. Honig said he will soon ask the state Board of Education to make changes if those schools do not improve. He said he will also push for legislation allowing an outside appointee to take control of a district if test scores do not improve.
Honig further criticized the University of Chicago report because, he claimed, it did not take into account demographic changes at some schools from heavily white student bodies to heavily Latino and black over the years studied. But Orfield said the schools with the worst test scores were already heavily Latino and black in 1976.
The superintendent's management of the state's schools is under investigation by a commission appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian, with whom Honig often has feuded. The governor's staff says that Honig wants to run for governor; Honig has said he has no such intention now but refuses to rule out the possibility.
Orfield said he regretted any impression that his study explicitly criticized Honig.
"These are really sensitive issues. We didn't figure we would get involved in state politics," he said. "It was not our goal to look at (Honig's) reforms. If we wanted to evaluate that, we wouldn't have chosen that 10-year period."
Orfield insisted that minority high schools fared poorly over the 10 years covered in the report. He added that more recent test increases did little to close the gap with the better-scoring Anglo schools.