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CTA Joins Lawsuit to Block Algebra Mandate

By Jeff Hudson - November 21, 2008

Another big player – the California Teachers Association – has joined the lawsuit attempting to block the State Board of Education (SBE)'s new mandate to test all California eighth-graders for Algebra.

The SBE adopted the algebra mandate – on what critics have termed insufficient public notice – in July.  The California School Boards Association (CSBA) and the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) filed a lawsuit in September, attempting to block the SBE's action.

In late October, the CSBA/ACSA legal team succeeded in obtaining a temporary restraining order from Sacramento Superior Court, blocking the SBE from implementing the algebra mandate until the case is heard in December.

Now the CTA, representing 340,000 teachers, has entered the fray, asserting that the SBE overstepped its authority.

"The State Board of Education acted abruptly, imprudently and without fully understanding the consequences of its actions on our schools, teachers and students," said David A. Sanchez, CTA president.

Sanchez also hit on a point made earlier by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.  Sanchez said, "For our schools to begin now to prepare all eighth graders to take the Algebra 1 exam, they must immediately hire about 3,000 more teachers and properly train about a thousand more who are either underprepared or teaching in another field.  And this is at a time when the governor is proposing to cut another $2.5 billion on top of the $3.5 billion that has already been cut from schools this year."

"The State Board's action to force all eighth-grade students to take a standardized algebra test is another one-size-fits-all approach that will punish students and public schools," said Sanchez.

Pointing out that a significant number of California eighth-graders have not yet studied algebra, Sanchez said, "It is never fair to force students to be tested on information they have not been taught. This ruling by the SBE was a step backward for California’s standards and accountability system and another example of the No Child Left Behind Act and the federal government dictating to California how to teach our students."

"The State Board’s failure to support any additional resources to meet this requirement while forcing these huge educational changes on California schools when public education is facing billions in state budget cuts is a recipe for failure that will undermine the progress that our students have been making. Hopefully, this lawsuit will make a difference for our schools and our students," Sanchez said.

The State Board of Education barely mentioned the CSBA/ACSA lawsuit during the SBE's open session meeting in Sacramento on Nov. 5-6 – which was not surprising, since government boards seldom discuss pending litigation in a public setting. However, the lawsuit was posted for discussion in a closed session meeting on Nov. 6 – a meeting that ran roughly an hour longer than expected.

Politically, the CTA's decision to join CSBA and ACSA puts the SBE (and by extension Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who urged the SBA to adopt the algebra mandate) in a more isolated position.

Politics, however, may not be the driving force behind whatever ruling Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang ultimately makes in the case.  Lawyers for the CSBA, ACSA and CTA will be attempting to prove that the SBE went out of bounds and failed to adequately post the July action, with the result that school districts and other interested parties didn't have time to respond to what amounted to a major change in policy.

The next court date for the lawsuit is December 19 – the Friday preceding Christmas.

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