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SBE Extends Emergency Regulations on Parent Trigger

By Jeff Hudson - March 10, 2011

The State Board of Education (SBE) moved on Wednesday to readopt and extend the existing emergency regulations relating to Parent Trigger/Parent Empowerment legislation – regulations that were hastily approved late last year by a previous panel of SBE members stacked with Schwarzenegger appointees.  The SBE also scheduled a special meeting on April 21 to discuss permanent regulations to implement the law.

“We value the obvious importance of parent involvement in education, and we understand the urgency of this situation,” said SBE President Michael Kirst. “Voting to extend the emergency regulations as we work as quickly as possible to adopt permanent regulations gives parents and local education agencies uninterrupted guidance on this law and stakeholders more time to provide feedback.”

“We now have more information about the issues based upon 2011 developments in Compton” where Parent Trigger petitions were submitted for the first time, and subsequently rejected by the school board, Kirst said. “The process for considering permanent regulations will utilize the regulatory process and draft regulations begun in 2010, public comments concerning prior and future draft regulations, and additional meeting of the stakeholders group, and other relevant information.”

"We want to give clear guidance on implementing the law, so that it results in better educational opportunities and options for students,” Kirst continued, adding pointedly that “The SBE is not pursuing any changes in the existing law at this time.”

In February, the SBE decided to convene a stakeholder meeting for groups to give feedback on the permanent regulations. Kirst has asked that another stakeholder input meeting be held before April 21.

Once permanent regulations are approved – presumably in April – they will be made available for required 15-day public comment period.

The SBE’s action on Wednesday defused what might have been a confrontation with Parent Trigger advocates, who had been fearful that the SBE might water down the new law through changes in the emergency regulations. Numerous speakers made the trip to Wednesday’s SBE meeting to speak on the issue, including several who took an all-night bus ride from Southern California.

Among the speakers who addressed the board were Ben Austin – executive director of the Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution group, and a Schwarzenegger appointee to the SBE last year.

Austin was never confirmed as an SBE member by the California Senate, and when new Gov. Jerry Brown withdrew Austin’s unconfirmed nomination in January (effectively removing Austin from the SBE), Austin responded with an acrid press release criticizing Brown’s move and questioning the SBE’s dedication to education reform.

But after hearing Kirst’s announcement during Wednesday’s SBE meeting, Austin’s remarks were warm and conciliatory. “We look forward to working with you” on the permanent Parent Trigger regulations, Austin said, adding that Kirst’s statement was “a good first step to marching forward together.”

Gabe Rose, another Parent Revolution spokesman, said “It really does feel like the SBE is listening. We appreciate your engagement.”

The SBE’s action to extend the existing emergency regulations for the Parent Trigger law did not go down well with the California Teachers Association. Ken Burt, representing the CTA, said “We oppose this . . . there is no legal basis for doing this.” Burt argued that the previous Schwarzenegger-appointed SBE members could have adopted emergency regulations much earlier in 2010, rather than waiting until the end of the year, and Burt therefore said he didn’t feel that a real emergency exists.

Burt’s remarks drew a quick retort from SBE member Yvonne Chan (one of two remaining Schwarzenegger appointees on the SBE). In a chilly voice, Chan bluntly dismissed Burt’s contention that no emergency regulations are necessary. Significantly, Chan then also called on representatives of Parent Revolution and others to “tone down” their recent criticism of the SBE, stressing that “we need to work on this together.”

SBE member James Aschwanden (the other remaining Schwarzenegger appointee to the SBE), said that there were “clear and compelling reasons” to extend the emergency regulations. “As part of the now infamous old board, I didn’t always agree with everything we did,” Aschwanden said. “The issue today is moving forward and getting it right . . . and I think we are getting it right.”

In an action that indicates the SBE’s awareness of intense public interest in the Parent Trigger issue, particularly in Southern California, the SBE’s publicist sent out two press releases relating to the SBE’s extension of the emergency regulations, and plans to develop permanent regulations, while Wednesday’s SBE session was still in progress. (It is unusual for the SBE to send out two press releases on the same day, or even the same month – in many months of the year, the SBE sends out no press releases at all.)

In other action on Wednesday, the SBE discussed California’s possible participation in one (or both) of two nationwide consortia relating to the new Common Core curriculum standards, which California adopted last year. The SBE heard presentations from the Partnership for the Assessment of the Readiness for College and Careers consortium (PARCC) and from the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

Deborah Sigman – the California Department of Education’s Deputy Superintendent Curriculum, Learning, and Accountability Branch – reminded the SBE that California could become a participating member in one or both consortia; or become a governing member of one or the other of the consortia (but not both);  or could elect to participate in neither group, and go it alone.

The decision ultimately will involve the Governor and the Legislature, in addition to the SBE. (Since SBE members are appointed by the Governor, the SBE members will presumably adopt the Governor’s view on this issue.)

Several speakers, including teachers and administrators from various school districts, spoke in favor of the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium.

A representative of the California Teachers Association said that the CTA has not yet developed a position on the choice, but has a committee studying the issue.

Wednesday’s discussion did not lead to SBE action on the issue; the matter will presumably return to the SBE agenda in the next month or two.

On Thursday afternoon, the SBE dealt with items relating to Program Improvement Corrective Action, including Item 14 (“Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Recommendations Related to California’s Assignment of Corrective Action and Associated Technical Assistance for the 2010 Local Educational Agencies in Program Improvement Corrective Action,” involving 62 LEAs, including school districts and county offices of education) and Item 15 (“Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Proposed Criteria and Methodology for the Review of 92 Educational Agencies in Cohort 1 Program Improvement Corrective Action.”).

On Item 14, the SBE engaged in a lengthy and not entirely conclusive discussion. Sherry Griffith, representing the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), said that the staff recommendation on this topic represented “a smoothing out of the process over time” and suggested that it was most important to “fully implement curriculum and targeting of subgroups” as the “highest use” of funds for DAIT (District Assistance and Intervention Team).

SBE member Patricia Rucker noted that some of the schools recommended for corrective action had an Academic Performance Index (API) ranking of over 800, and suggested that a change was in order. Rucker said that “maybe we cannot continue to treat these schools (assigned to corrective action) with the same broad brush. We might want to consider creating some flexibility.” She also noted that “between now and 2014 (under the No Child Left Behind act) we will have many more schools with a higher API on this list.” (Rucker’s comments came on the same day that federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted that up to 82 percent of public schools might be ranked as “failing” under the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind legislation, which Duncan is recommending be overhauled.)

The SBE ultimately voted through a resolution to “accept the districts identified for Corrective Action Six” by staff, but postponed further action (which could come during Friday’s continuation of this month’s SBE meeting).

The SBE also tabled action on Item 15, (“Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Proposed Criteria and Methodology for Review of 92 Local Educational Agencies in Cohort 1 Program Improvement for Corrective Action”).

SBE member Trish Boyd Williams noted that “like the previous item, you’ve got districts in the (API list in the) 800s,” adding “ I think things are getting muddy here.”

CDE administrator Deb Sigman acknowledged “we are charting new territory here – we want to do what you guys (the new board) want to do.” The implication being that the new SBE (with a majority of appointees named by Gov.Brown) has a different agenda than the previous SBE (dominated by appointees named by Gov. Schwarzenegger).

Sherry Griffith, speaking on behalf of the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), said that “What we don’t want to see is districts filling out yet another survey, what we want to see is some really provocative questions” – including comments from the district, the DAIT team, and others.

Larry Carlin, representing the California Teachers Association, recommended that action on Item 15 be carried over to a future meeting.

Chief Deputy Superintendent Rich Zeiger said “We need to work with you to figure out where you want us to go (as staff). We are identifying districts that under federal law are under some kind of sanction… It seems to me that one of the things  we ought to do is a reverse conversation, and talk about what sort of forums the board thinks might be appropriate for action.  There are dozens of ways to come up with criteria.” Zeiger recommended further discussion “to give us a little time to think about this . . . the SBE that is here now is quite different from the SBE that was here a few months ago. We, as staff, are adjusting to that… Obviously, we are going to have to go back and do more work.”

Editor's Note:  Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.