Oakland, SF education officials meet with Obama

Three California education officials – including two from the Bay Area – met Monday morning with President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to highlight the need for funding as Congress mulls a new budget and a revamp of the No Child Left Behind law.

Jumoke Hinton HodgeOakland Unified School District board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge, San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza and Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Mike Hanson were among the dozen officials from across the nation who met with Obama and Duncan at the White House.

All were from districts that are part of the Council of the Great City Schools; Hodge chairs the board of that national organization, which represents the needs of urban public schools. School districts eligible for membership must be located in cities with populations over 250,000 and student enrollment over 35,000.

Obama said in the meeting that he’s ready to fight with Republicans for school funding and his education priorities, the Associated Press reported. He hopes that Republican lawmakers focus on educating every child and not shifting money away from needy districts, he said; he’s also calling for a focus on low-performing schools, annual assessments and investments in special education and English-language learners.

If the Republican budget doesn’t reflect those priorities, he said, they will have “a major debate.”

“My hope is that their budget reflects the priorities of educating every child,” he said, according to a pool report from the New York Post’s Geoff Earle. “We are making too much progress here … for us to be going backwards now.”

Obama and Duncan are touting improved high-school graduation rates as evidence that the administration’s policies are working. In California, the high school graduation rates from 2012 to 2013 increased by 2.4 percent overall, including a 2.7 percent increase for Hispanic students and a 2.1 percent increase for African-American students.

Richard CarranzaHinton Hodge is co-founder of the Parent Leadership and Engagement Academy Initiative (PLEA), a community-building project dedicated to the education and support of West Oakland parents and families. She collaborated with California Tomorrow to develop programs aimed at increasing parents’ ability to navigate the public school system; has worked extensively with low-income youth and students identified as severely emotionally disturbed; and she has provided gender-specific services to urban girls.

Carranza has been San Francisco’s schools superintendent since June 2012; earlier, he had been the district’s deputy superintendent of instruction, innovation and social justice at the district since 2009.


Poll: More back Brown’s tax plan than Munger’s

Almost two-thirds of California’s likely voters favor raising income taxes for the state’s wealthiest residents to pay for public schools, but most oppose increasing the state sales tax for the same purpose, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California poll.

Both are elements of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot measure for this November.

The PPIC poll found 65 percent of likely voters favor raising the top rate of state income tax paid by the wealthiest Californians, while 34 percent oppose it. But only 46 percent support raising the state sales tax while 52 percent oppose that.

When read the ballot title and a brief summary of Brown’s proposed measure, 54 percent of likely voters say they would vote for it while 39 percent would vote against it – about the same numbers as were found last month. Unsurprisingly, there’s a sharp partisan divide – 75 percent of Democrats support it, 65 percent of Republicans oppose it – but independents favor it 53 percent to 43 percent. Public school parents support it widely: 60 percent yes, 36 percent no.

Brown has said that if voters reject his measure, there’ll be automatic budget cuts for public schools; 78 percent of likely voters oppose such cuts.

Another proposed measure, bankrolled by Molly Munger, would raise income taxes on most Californians. The poll found 57 percent of likely voters oppose this, with 40 percent in support.

Brown’s own approval rating is holding steady, the poll shows: 47 percent of likely voters approve of his job performance, 40 percent disapprove and 12 percent don’t know, similar to one year ago (46 percent approval, 32 percent disapproval, 21 percent don’t know). And the Legislature remains unloved: Only 15 percent of likely voters approve of its job performance, while only 10 percent approve of its handling of K-12 education.

Lots more slicing and dicing, after the jump…
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Come all ye faithful, dammit!

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen today announced proponents of a new initiative may begin collecting petition signatures for their measure:

REQUIRES PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO OFFER CHRISTMAS MUSIC. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires public schools to offer an opportunity for students to listen to or perform Christmas music during the holiday season. Requires schools to notify students’ parents or guardians twenty-one days before the music will be played or performed so that students can opt-out of listening to or performing the music. Provides that a civil lawsuit may be brought to enforce these requirements. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Probably minor annual costs to school districts. (09-0030.)

I see the cover letter for the initiative says it’s “allowing for Christmas music in the public schools,” and the new section of state law the measure seeks to enact would be entitled, “Freedom to Present Christmas Music in Public School Classrooms or Assemblies.”

But the measure’s actual language clearly states “shall provide opportunities to its pupils for listening to or performing Christmas music at an appropriate time of year.” (Emphasis added.)

That’s “shall” as in, “I’ll be able to sue you if you don’t.”

Proponents Merry Susan Hyatt – the cover letter says she “moved to Redding but I will keep my registration in Riverside County,” a neat trick – and David Joseph Hyatt – Merry’s brother, in Shasta County – must collect valid signatures from at least 433,971 registered voters by March 29 in order to qualify their measure for the November 2010 ballot.


California students ‘ain’t got the do re mi’

The South Pasadena Unified Grade “A” Jug Band protests the state budget cuts to public education in this music video, based on Woody Guthrie’s 1937 original, “Do Re Mi.” The jug band is comprised of students from kindergarten through fifth grade, and video was a collaborative effort between parents and students of the South Pasadena Unified School District.


What the “Yes on 8” campaign will and won’t say

Standing there as the “Yes on 8” rally outside Oakland’s Foothill Missionary Baptist Church began to wind down today, I noticed a gentleman in the crowd approach an elderly woman who was holding a “Gay marriage = legal perversion” sign. I eavesdropped – hey, that’s my job – as he told her he agreed with her sign completely, but he urged her to ditch it and just use a “Yes on 8” sign instead because her homemade sign’s sentiment might turn off some voters.

Is saying one thing but meaning another common in political campaigns of all kinds? Certainly. Is it disingenuous? You bet.

It seems to be a similar situation with the “Yes on 8” campaign’s focus on what would be taught to California’s public schoolchildren should this measure fail.

They note that in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004, parents can’t “opt out” from having their children hear about same-sex marriage in public school. That’s true; a federal judge there ruled so, and was affirmed by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year.

“Public schools are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student agree with or affirm those ideas, or even participate in discussions about them,” the appeals court wrote.

Proposition 8’s proponents and opponents are going back and forth now on whether California law will allow an opt-out. As I’ve noted before, California Education Code section 51240 says:

(a) If any part of a school’s instruction in health conflicts with the religious training and beliefs of a parent or guardian of a pupil, the pupil, upon written request of the parent or guardian, shall be excused from the part of the instruction that conflicts with the religious training and beliefs.
(b) For purposes of this section, “religious training and beliefs” includes personal moral convictions.

Another section, 51932(b), might exempt “instruction or materials that discuss gender, sexual orientation, or family life and do not discuss human reproductive organs and their functions” from an opt-out, but that might only apply to the California Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Act, a whole separate section of the code enacted in 2004. I’m not sure.

Yet there’s a deeper and more important question here than intricacies of the Education Code – a question about what our public schools are supposed to be.

“Public schools often walk a tightrope between the many competing constitutional demands made by parents, students, teachers, and the schools’ other constituents… The balance the school struck here does not offend the Free Exercise or Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution,” the appeals court wrote in the Massachusetts case. “We do not suggest that the school’s choice of books for young students has not deeply offended the plaintiffs’ sincerely held religious beliefs. If the school system has been insufficiently sensitive to such religious beliefs, the plaintiffs may seek recourse to the normal political processes for change in the town and state. They are not entitled to a federal judicial remedy under the U.S. Constitution.”

In other words, if you don’t like the curriculum, go petition your school board or run for office but don’t come crying to the courts. And the bigger picture is that public schools are not supposed to be beholden to religious beliefs; they’re supposed to teach the law of the land, the world as it is.

Right now, same-sex marriage is legal in California; the state Supreme Court in May ruled 4-3 that state law’s bans on the practice were unconstitutional, and an estimated 11,000 same-sex couples have tied the knot here since then.

Same-sex marriage foes often refer to the California Supreme Court’s majority and the judges who decided the Massachusetts case as “activist judges,” but that’s usually just what a lawsuit’s losers call judges who ruled against them. For the record, the California Supreme Court’s opinion was written by Chief Justice Ronald George, an appointee of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson; he was joined by justices Joyce Kennard (appointed by Republican Gov. George Deukmejian), Kathryn Werdegar (Wilson, again) and Carlos Moreno (Democratic Gov. Gray Davis). And in the Massachusetts case, the trial judge was a Reagan appointee while one of the appellate judges was a George H.W. Bush appointee, one a Clinton appointee and one a George W. Bush appointee; their ruling was unanimous, and the U.S. Supreme Court this month refused to review it.

Activists one and all? Hardly. They’re jurists interpreting and state and federal laws and constitutions, as their job descriptions entail.

Hence Proposition 8, which would render the state Supreme Court’s ruling moot by amending the state constitution to explicitly revoke the right that the court recognized in May.

Now, parents will always remain free to raise their children in whatever religious and moral tradition they choose; in fact, we can probably all agree that more parents should be more active in doing so rather than relying on schools, television, the streets to raise their kids.

But public schools are public spaces in which all children are supposed to be educated in common, not in individual families’ religious and moral beliefs. Would Jewish parents who keep a kosher kitchen get a heads-up before their child’s class reads a story about eating cheeseburgers? Of course not.

Public schools teach society’s laws and norms. If same-sex marriage remains the law of the land after Nov. 4, that’s what kids should learn; if it’s banned, that’s what kids should learn. It’ll be up to their parents, as it always has been, to fill in the blanks at home.

What the “Yes on 8” campaign is really saying is that the right to same-sex marriage must be revoked now because if it’s not, their kids will learn in public school that their parents’ views don’t jibe with the law of the land. Perhaps that’s not a conversation they relish having with their kids.

And to let any parents pull a child out of any discussion of other thoughts, lifestyles and beliefs creates a “boy in the bubble” scenario, a sort of societal sensory deprivation tank that defeats public schools’ very purpose.

If California voters see fit to revoke a constitutional right recognized by our Supreme Court this Nov. 4, so be it – that’s the choice we face; I voice no opinion on that here. But don’t believe for a minute that we’re just doing it for public schoolchildren – as someone who has seen this battle and this campaign unfold, I just don’t think it’s so.