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Brown unveils education reform plan

The Democrat calls for changing the state's end-of-year testing system so teachers receive results quickly, and he backs increasing the amount of spending on colleges.

July 29, 2010|By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown unveiled an education reform plan Wednesday that calls for a wholesale restructuring of California's public school system, from changing the way schools are funded to revamping the state's higher education system.

The eight-page plan touches upon the major issues facing the state's education system, from the increasing cost of college to the state's dismal dropout rate. Some of the proposals, such as changing the way schools are funded, would take years. Brown urged patience.

"There is no silver bullet that will fix everything," he wrote. "Education improvement takes time, persistence and a systematic approach."

Education experts lauded some proposals, such as the call for changing the state's end-of-year testing system so teachers receive results quickly and can use them to craft instructional plans. But several said the plan is short on specifics, such as how Brown would increase the graduation rate or narrow the achievement gap between white and Asian students and their Latino and black classmates.

"It's a mixed bag. There are some positives, and there are some things I would like to see fleshed out," said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based nonprofit. "There's a lack of detail on strategies."

Educators also described as alarming the lack of discussion about increasing school funding. The state routinely ranks in the bottom nationally for per-pupil spending, and billions of education dollars have been cut in recent years.

"It is surprising there wouldn't be some discussion of the need for more funding so California can enter the bottom third rather than being among the very lowest," said John Rogers, director of the Institute for Democracy, Education & Access at UCLA. "If you're going to maintain high goals, clearly you need to have a decent level of investment."

The plan was released without fanfare on Twitter.

Brown said the state's master plan for higher education, which was created in 1960 to assure every high school graduate would have access to higher education, needs to be revisited. He called for increasing the amount of spending on colleges by pursuing savings in the state's prisons, a move fraught with difficulties given court mandates over the system. He also proposed aligning community colleges with the UC and Cal State schools to ease transfers.

Brown would alter the way schools are funded so that schools get a set amount per pupil, with the figure weighted to include factors such as poverty or English-language proficiency. He would do away with many of the so-called categorical funds, which can only be spent on specific programs such as smaller classrooms. The money could then be spent on the districts' most pressing needs.

The plan backed away from some of the edgier topics at the forefront of education reform, such as layoffs currently based on seniority rather than skills. Such proposals are anathema to teachers' unions, which have lined up behind Brown. On Wednesday, the powerful California Teachers Assn. joined a coalition of unions that is advertising on Brown's behalf against Republican nominee Meg Whitman. The union is contributing $750,000 to that effort.

Some of the ideas Brown unveiled Wednesday are similar to reform proposals put out by Whitman, such as reducing categorical spending, streamlining the state education code and giving local districts more control.

She also proposes increasing college-level spending by $1 billion, money she says would come from savings because of her proposed welfare and budgetary reforms.

The Whitman campaign, which has criticized Brown as having no solutions to the state's problems, did not respond directly to Brown's proposal. Instead, spokeswoman Sarah Pompei slammed education outcomes during his prior terms as governor and as Oakland mayor.

"Jerry Brown…is the last person Californians can trust to fix our struggling public schools," Pompei said in a written statement.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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