Charley Cowen's Message to Bayside PTA re parcel tax measure
- --- In firstname.lastname@example.org, Marsha Williamson
> Forwarded to you by Marsha Williamson.Dear Bayside PTA Council and Unit Officers:
As you may know, there is currently a plan to put a parcel tax on the
for March. The first step is, of course, to develop the language for the
parcel tax. Then, the School Board would have to formally approve this
measure for placement before the voters.
Last week, I went to my first meeting of the "ad hoc" group to develop the
parcel tax, as a representative of the Bayside PTA. This group consists of
Board member George Harris, a representative of the teachers union, a
representative of the main non-teachers union (Local 1), a
the NAACP, a principal (from Pinole Middle), the campaign manager, the
campaign consultant, and myself. My participation is not meant as and
taken as an automatic endorsement of whatever parcel tax ends up on the
At the first meeting I attended (there was one of this group before), we
discussed the questions that would be on the poll to gauge likely voter
response to various parameters for a parcel tax. At the next meeting, this
Friday (11/21), the ad hoc group will meet to go over the polling results
and discuss what the language of the proposed parcel tax should be.
The School Board has two meetings coming up. Today, Wednesday (11/19), the
Board will receive a general report on the progress of efforts to
parcel tax. On Monday (11/24), the Board will vote on an actual parcel tax
to put on the ballot. If you are interested in having your opinion heard
about what the revenues for a parcel tax should be used for, the
amount of the tax, and whether we should have one at all, I strongly urge
you to attend these meetings.
I am, of course, interested in hearing what you or any parent in the
district has to say about this. If there is any interest, I'd be more than
happy to hold "office hours" Thursday night at some place so that you
other interested parents can drop in and discuss this issue face-to-face
with me before I go into the drafting meeting.
Executive Vice President
- Below is a summary of last Saturday's hearing, which I attended.
No Child Left Behind? How the Federal NCLB Act impacts local schools and
A Hearing by the Select Committee on Bridging the Achievement Gap
Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, Chair
Saturday, Nov. 15, 2003, Stanley Middle School, Lafayette
Camille Maben of the Calif. Dept. of Ed. gave a brief overview of NCLB as
it affects California, where, as she put it, "we're still working on
revising and improving our testing system." She explained API (California's
academic performance index), AYP (annual yearly progress required under
NCLB), and AMO (annual measurable objectives used to determine AYP). In
addition to test scores, graduation rates are theoretically required to
rise, but at present there is no reliable way to measure this. Schools that
don't meet AYP two years in a row enter PI (program improvement, a status
that can eventually lead to re-opening a school as a charter, replacing
staff, contracting school operation with an external entity, or takeover by
the state if test scores don't improve enough). The ultimate requirement of
NCLB is for 100% of students throughout the state to score "proficient" on
standardized tests in language arts and math by the year 2014. Ms. Maben
touched briefly on the HQT (high quality teacher) requirement of NCLB, under
which schools have a couple of years to ensure that all teachers have a
4-year college degree, are fully certified or licensed, and can demonstrate
competence in the subject matter they teach. She concluded that one of the
most important challenges of NCLB is communication, i.e., communicating to
teachers, parents, students and the general public what this act is all
about and how important it is.
There followed a wide array of expert panelists who are all attempting to
comply with the law, yet every one of them expressed serious reservations
Richard Whitmore, Board member of the Acalanes Union High School District,
emphasized that the US Dept. of Ed. will not waive any part of the NCLB law.
This is frustrating for California policy-makers, since our state already
has an accountability system that is similar to but not identical with the
Terri Jackson, President of the United Teachers of Richmond, affirmed
teachers' openness to reform and accountability but took exception to the
top-down, heavy-handed way it is being imposed by NCLB. It is causing many
teachers to lose the joy of their profession. The HQT provisions create
unnecessary hoops for experienced teachers. The testing provisions restrict
the teaching and learning environment with excessive emphasis on scripted
curriculum and little or no time for the arts, PE, science and social
science. She quoted Wynton Marsalis' appeal for the expansion of arts
education: "We don't need smarter students, we need more informed, humane
Michele Lawrence, Superintendent of the Berkeley Unified School District,
pointed out that a major addition of resources would be needed to make the
dream of high academic performance for all students a reality. The HQT
provisions of NCLB overemphasize teachers' content knowledge while
neglecting the importance of pedagogical skills. She said we should insist
on multiple measures of student performance, a component of California's
accountability law that is being violated.
Janice Thompson, Principal of Verde Elementary School in North Richmond,
said that the blessing of this law is that "it forces us to teach to all
children", but the curse is that the state and federal government is not
supporting us and following up with the necessary funds. Her school serves
low-income, predominantly African American students with a history of poor
achievement. Even though in recent years attendance improved, parents
became more involved, and a core group of dedicated teachers helped turn the
school around, she had to send out lay-off notices last spring and
drastically reduce the number of teacher interns they could hire.
Beverly Sadler, Curriculum Director of Acalanes Union High School District,
said NCLB can be used as leverage for success for all students or it can be
allowed to divert energy for the avoidance of consequences. A big problem
in high schools is participation rates. If fewer than 95% of students
overall or in any subgroup take the standardized test (regardless of whether
parents requested they be exempted), then the school or district does not
meet AYP. High school students often don't come to school on test days
because they don't take this one seriously.
Several students testified that the excessive standardized testing has a
negative effect on kids, puts students under too much pressure and doesn't
really reflect their knowledge and skills.
Kathy Rollins, a classified staff member in WCCUSD Local 1, said low-paid
paraprofessionals are being asked to do more and more without enough money
for adequate training.
John Chocholak, a San Leandro teacher in the CA Industrial Technical
Education Association, said that because of NCLB and the intense pressure to
focus on language arts and math, vocational education is slowly being
eliminated in California. Businesses are upset that students can't take
shop in high school, and before long, the only place where young people will
be able to get publicly funded vocational education will be within
California's largest growth industry: prison.
Joan Alber, a Special Education teacher, said NCLB is wasteful and unfair to
special ed students, who already have Individualized Education Plans and a
variety of unique skills that can't be assessed on a one-size-fits-all
Stephen Rhodes, of the High School District Association, noted that 75% of
high schools in California failed to meet AYP due to low participation, and
said the participation rate threshold should be lowered.
Following the invited expert testimony, about thirty audience members got up
to speak during the public comment period. Without exception, outrage and
opposition to this legislation was expressed by parents, teachers, teacher
educators, community members, students, and a member of the AC Transit
Board. Speakers noted that NCLB is designed to set public schools up to
fail and pave the way for vouchers and privitization to the detriment of
low-income students of color, who persistently have less access to high
quality learning experiences. NCLB does not address the root causes of the
so-called "achievement gap", which are unjust economic policies and on-going
institutional racism. The lack of funding and rigidity of the new law were
criticized. The question was raised whether we want education to be
designed by politicians and corporations, or by the parents and educators
and students who have to live with it. And one speaker noted, "if we
applied this law to medicine, by 2014, no patients would die."
In the written program, the resources below were listed for further
Your summary of Saturday's hearing was excellent. I have one thing to add. The general sentiment by the end of the hearing was that we have too many school performance accountability systems (four) in place in the state of CA and we are testing kids to death to the detriment of authentic teaching and learning. With respect to NCLB, many in the audience and on the panel agreed that the act should be repealed and we should start over. George W. and McGraw Hill (Reading First Program) be damned. I would highly recommend that people attend Loni Hancock's education hearings in the future. It is a wonderful learning experience for all participants.
Thanks again, Marilyn, for the very comprehensive summary.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]