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Topic: More Developments in Califonia
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
More Developments in Califonia
Posted: Sep 2, 1998 4:03 PM
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San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, June 21, 1998

In California, the Usual Standards Don't Apply

Robert B. Gunnison, Sacramento Bureau

To educate means to lead, but the governor's specially appointed commission
to determine school performance is all over the map

To paraphrase Georges Clemenceau, education is too important to be left to

The latest proof of this dictum can be seen in Governor Wilson's battle
with his own Commission for the Establishment of Academic Content and
Performance Standards.

The commission is a group created by a 1995 law that Wilson
enthusiastically signed and to which he appointed a plurality of members,
including its chairwoman, Ellen Wright of Redwood City.

In plain English, the commission was supposed to decide what California's 5
million public school pupils will learn and whether they learned it.

But like nearly everything that involves education, political agendas were
never far from the surface as the commission plodded through its work.

On one side was the governor, intent on imposing strict, back-to- basics rules.

On the other was the educational establishment, led by schools chief
Delaine Eastin, which contends that the methods favored by the governor
don't always work. Eastin is in another squeeze. She didn't win enough
votes in June to be re-elected, so she faces a November runoff against
Gloria Matta Tuchman, an opponent of bilingual education.

Beyond the politics, commission members would not get A's in the "works
well with other" category on their report cards.

Nothing has been easy for this panel. Battles have already raged over
phonics, whole language and fuzzy math.

It is not enough that the opponents disagree. Being on the other side in
this conflict is akin to admitting that you think Satan would make a fine
principal at Dovewood Elementary School.

If you believe that youngsters should do multiplication tables, then you
must believe the Earth is flat. If you think there is more to life than
phonics, you obviously are squishy on Alger Hiss.

In the latest chapter in this depressing exercise, Wilson wants the
commission to halt work and leave what remains to the State Board of
Education, whose members are all appointed by the governor.

"I have significant concerns that the commission's direction will not
substantially contribute to the assessment system and may, in fact, be an
unwise use of state funds," Wilson wrote to Wright, the commission's

The disagreement is over how to measure pupil performance. Wilson says the
method proposed by the commission is experimental and unreliable.

Wilson wants to use "empirical data," which means the test results, to
set the standards. The commission is leaning toward a more abstract
measurement, under which it would set the standards, not pupil performance.

Wilson likes multiple choice tests, with right and wrong answers.

Eastin folks favor writing samples and science experiments for their tests.
It is a battle of memorizing facts vs. thinking, they say.

Wilson administration insiders believe that Wright is like a victim of the
Stockholm Syndrome, in which prisoners come under the thrall of their
captors - Eastin, a Democrat, and her allies.

Wright's friends say Wilson is simply trying to ram through a politically
charged agenda that will boost his chances for the Republican presidential
nomination in 2000.

This is the commission that rejected an offer from Nobel-winning chemist
Glenn Seaborg and other scientists -- at no cost to the education
department -- to write the state's science standards.

Instead, the commission picked a team from California State University at
San Bernardino to write the standards for a mere $178,000.

To Wilson and his allies, that incident reinforced the notion that the
commission was more interested in the methodology of teaching rather than
in the content of the curriculum.

The governor had the last word -- appointing Seaborg to the commission as
chairman of the subcommittee writing the science standards.

And this is the commission that had its math standards rewritten by the
State Board of Education, so there is ample precedent for this to happen

It may be that Wilson and Eastin each care deeply whether kids in
California schools learn why Hamlet agonized or why the tangent equals the
opposite over the adjacent.

But it might be better if they didn't care quite so much.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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