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O'Connell's State of Education 2009:

"Times Are Turbulent, With No Clear Skies Ahead"

By Jeff Hudson - February 6, 2009

State Superintendent Jack O’Connell delivered his annual “State of Education” address on Monday – and it was his bleakest assessment to date. Here are some highlights:

"Times are turbulent with no clear skies ahead. The national economic downturn and the budget shortfall facing our state are creating havoc in every one of California's schools and districts. Every teacher, every principal, and every superintendent I speak with wonders how we will make it through the next school year."

"Beyond the immediate crisis, and even more alarming to me, is the long-term future of our common education system. If we continue down the road we are on our public schools and our state itself face certain, perhaps irreparable, damage."

"We can expect (things to) get worse over the next two years: larger class sizes and fewer classroom aides. Outdated textbooks, longer bus rides or no buses at all. Less support for English learners and for our neediest schools. Fewer librarians, counselors and nurses. Districts are choosing between hiring a math teacher and buying math books."

"The number of homeless students in our schools increased nearly 19 percent in the 2006-2007 school year, and we know that percentage is rapidly growing. Hunger is on the increase. Our schools served 28 million more free school lunches in 2007-2009 than the year before. . . a 12 percent rise (Sept. 2007 to Sept. 2008)."

"We know downturns like this hit the most vulnerable among us the hardest. It’s the children in our schools struggling to learn the English language or those who come from poverty or live with a learning disability that will be the first to feel the pain of cuts."

"All of our progress as a high-expectation state is at risk unless we commit ourselves now to being innovative, flexible, and focused as never before."

"I intend to work with the legislature and governor to get additional dollars into our classrooms."

"First, I am supporting legislation (SCA 6) to lower the threshold for parcel taxes from the current two-thirds majority to 55 percent."
"I am also sponsoring legislation to place a major school facilities bond on the next statewide ballot."

"Unless we rethink our investment in public education and specifically target our resources to closing the achievement gap, we’ll see a future in California where even those who “have” live with less: fewer services, less safety, a society with constrained growth and lack of innovation. Those who “have not” will be in the majority, suffering lack of jobs, lack of support, and lack of the hope and opportunity that have for so long defined our state."

"We will see solidified a two-tiered system of education that will become untenable. Untenable in the sense that a student's future could be determined more by his zip code than his or her individual determination to learn. Families who struggle financially will be left with a substandard system – one that cannot possibly prepare their children to compete in a challenging global economy. And to be clear, those children left behind will be the backbone of our future workforce. If they do not succeed in this global economy, the impact on all Californians will be devastating."

"In our schools, it is the creativity and dedication of our educators that will move us forward through this time. It is the extra sacrifice of parents. It is the determination of neighbors who care about their schools, whether or not their own children attend them. It is the willingness of all Californians to embrace all students as their students, to be responsible for the future they face, and the future they will make for us all."

For a complete text of O'Connell's speech, go to:
http://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/se/yr09stateofed.asp

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