Soapbox

California’s schools falling short on accountability

Only 2 percent of students at Howe Avenue Elementary in Sacramento met or exceeded standards on state tests released in September. The achievement gap grew among poor and minority students.
Only 2 percent of students at Howe Avenue Elementary in Sacramento met or exceeded standards on state tests released in September. The achievement gap grew among poor and minority students. Sacramento Bee file

We live in a progressive and forward-thinking state with a constitution that guarantees equity in our public education system. We have a lot to be proud of – successfully implementing the Common Core standards, expanding services for students in foster care and investing in early childhood education.

But we also should be striving every day to more fully deliver on that constitutional promise of an equal education for every California child. Critical to that promise is a system rooted in accountability and transparency, and on that front, we are falling short.

On the same day this month that the State Board of Education agreed to a historic settlement agreement in Cruz v. California – a class-action lawsuit filed by 22 students who were being placed in fake classes – the board also considered rolling back key accountability measures.

The new plan – based on weak and unreliable measures – would replace the state’s Academic Performance Index, which relies on valid, reliable metrics to tell us if kids are actually learning.

But if the story of Cruz v. California has told us anything, it’s that without strong accountability to ensure that every student – especially our most vulnerable – is being given the means and opportunity to learn, we will continue to allow some students to fall through the cracks and systematically rob them of their education.

For years, students like the Cruz plaintiffs were being placed in so-called service periods or home periods. The mind-boggling reality is that instead of learning math or English or science, these kids were assigned janitorial tasks, forced to sit in an auditorium without a teacher or simply sent home. The Cruz case is a symptom of a system that is still failing to give every kid the opportunity to succeed. It is part of a longstanding trend of telling our most vulnerable students that they can’t learn, that they don’t deserve the opportunity to learn.

But we know that’s not true. All students can learn. All students deserve the opportunity to get a great education and live up to their individual potential.

Make no mistake, the Cruz settlement is a clear victory for California kids. Along with Assembly Bill 1012, the new law championed by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer that protects students from fake classes, it takes us in the right direction.

But it does not solve the root of our education system’s problems. It’s time to rebuild accountability, not roll it back as the state board is considering.

We must address our shortfalls and find new ways to better live up to our state’s promise to deliver effective education in an equitable way. There are great models of state accountability all across this country. Rather than throw our hands up, it’s time to work hand-in-hand to find solutions.

George Miller represented California’s 11th Congressional District from 1975 to 2014 and was chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

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