With many California schools still on winter break the first weekend of 2013 is a good time to acknowledge new laws that will affect education. While the Governor signed into law over 800 bills, a few of the ones that will directly impact public education is:
· Suspensions for high school students will become more difficult. Recent studies have shown that the majority of students (including L.A. Unified) being suspended were African-American and demonstrated disparities in relation to student population and race. The new law requires schools to seek alternative actions before a student can be placed on suspension.
· Academic Performance Index (API) scores will carry less weight in a schools ranking. Test scores will count for no more than 60% of a school’s overall ranking, and more emphasis will go towards graduation rates and student readiness for college and/or career.
· Colleges/Universities will offer free digital library services for lower-division courses. This move aims to give greater access of textbook resources to students.
· Pension reform will raise retirement age for new teachers and cap pension wages. This bill is in response to past years school budget woes partly due to pension obligations.
· School districts gain greater authority to close charter schools that fail to meet academic progress. Many traditional school systems have argued that they didn’t have adequate authority to close failing charter schools.
These new laws reaffirm my commitment to educate and motivate parents and community members to get involved in their local schools. Suspension efforts should be implemented with parent and community input, operation, and evaluation. School rankings should have a component that includes parent/community surveys. Most Colleges and Universities already have a system (Board of Trustees, Community Panels, etc.) where concerned community stakeholders can give input. I’ve long advocated for parent representatives to be part of negotiating teams when labor unions and schools officials meet to discuss contracts/agreements. Students need someone in the room representing them.
And finally as someone who has worked inside the public school system as an employee and outside as a school provider I understand the relationship(s) between traditional schools and charter schools. Both should be expected to provide adequate academic progress – and parents and community members need to be valued more as stakeholders who can make essential contributions to a school’s social and academic progress.