Governor Brown took aim at excessive testing in the schools – an ongoing theme of his governorship –
and warned lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington not to burden teachers with more demands than they are already experiencing in forceful remarks at the California Democratic Convention in Los Angeles over the weekend.
Students, Brown said, already have “tests coming out their ears.”
“California is recognizing that the genius of each child is not how they bubble in an A, B, C and D,” he said, to the cheers of the crowd, in contrast to the heckling he received from anti-fracking activists toward the end of his 12-minute speech. As he did in his State of the State speech in January, he paraphrased William Butler Yeats by declaring that “education is not filling a pail, it is lighting a fire in the soul and spirit of every child.”
His remarks came a day after what amounted to a major victory for California when U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that he would not fine the state for refusing to administer the California Standardized Tests for one last time this spring as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Law. Instead, California had opted to administer field tests this spring of the Smarter Balanced assessments in English language arts and math based on new Common Core standards adopted by 45 states, including California. Just last September, Duncan had threatened to withhold millions – and possibly billions – of dollars in federal Title I funds for poor children if California went ahead with its plan.
“No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing,” Duncan argued then.
The California Legislature refused to back down – and Brown savored the outcome of the battle. “We have people in Washington telling us what tests to take,” he said. “California was the only state to stand up and say no, we are not doing these tests this year” – or at least the annual multiple-choice tests students have taken for each of the past 15 years.
He then turned to teachers, who for much of the last decade have been held by many national reformers to be almost solely responsible for the achievement gap that has endured for decades between black and Latino students on the one hand and white and Asian students on the other. Brown has also been backed by the California Teachers Association, which was strongly represented in the audience in Los Angeles.
“I want everyone in Washington and Sacramento to remember we are here to help the teacher, not add new burdens or some obstacle course that makes his or her job all that more difficult,” he said.
Brown was biting in his criticism of California’s massive and much maligned education code, which he said had grown to 10 volumes based on “thousands and thousands of laws,” as well as multiple state and federal agencies, all of which add to the regulatory burden that teachers labor under. “At the end of the day, when you shut the door, it’s only the teacher. That is where we make the difference – the teachers of California.”
Can you imagine the charter school lobbyist, er, governor of New York State saying anything even close to what Jerry Brown said on Saturday?