California Teachers Association opposes 'stupid reform'
A nearly $6 billion infusion from Proposition 30 and a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature are a welcome pre-holiday gift to public education from voters, but it also could set the stage for battles between those laboring for education reform and suddenly fortified unions protecting teacher interests.
"Proposition 30 is a bandage on the current system," said former state Sen. Gloria Romero, an outspoken education reform advocate. "We got no reform for the investment."
She and others cite the urgent need to raise student achievement, modify the rule of teacher seniority, dismantle the Byzantine school finance system and ensure the teacher pension fund stays solvent.
But those backing that agenda will run smack into the California Teachers Association, whose notion of reform on some issues is markedly different. "We're not opposed to education reform," CTA President Dean Vogel said. "We're opposed to stupid reform."
He downplayed talk that the election elevated the CTA to superpower status, pointing out that in the Legislature Democrats like Romero have been among the loudest voices for change.
Still, some say that with imminent financial disaster removed, pressure for reform has flagged.
"I'm concerned now that we've gotten past the fiscal cliff, we're going back to business as usual," said Eric Hanushek, a professor at Stanford's Hoover Institution, who has studied student achievement and education economics.
To improve student performance, he said, schools need an effective teacher evaluation system and need to be able to get rid of the worst teachers and to reward the best ones. But he said there's no movement toward either of those.
As Hanushek said, "Everybody in the state would like major changes without really changing." And, he said, the cost is that "California is at the rock bottom in student performance, and it's dragging down the nation."
The difficulty in changing teacher evaluations is illustrated by the fate of a reform bill, which last summer was modified with CTA backing to force districts to negotiate teacher evaluations with unions and to prohibit unannounced classroom visits. The bill was withdrawn at the last moment after a storm of opposition from school districts, which protested it would cost them millions.
Vogel insists that evaluations should serve primarily to improve how teachers teach. He said unions will vigorously oppose efforts to review members based on how much students learn in a school year, as measured by annual STAR tests.
And so far, that so-called "value-added" metric for teachers, that some reformers prize, hasn't been among Gov. Jerry Brown's priorities.
He has, however, clearly said that the state needs to revamp how California funds schools, a system so complicated that school districts contract with lobbyists and consultants to explain the state's budget and its fiscal requirements.
"The current system is broken," said Mike Kirst, head of the state Board of Education. "It's so convoluted and complex and inequitable that it can't be fixed."
Brown almost surely will include in his January budget proposal a new formula for how much the state gives individual school districts, based on student need.