COMET • Vol. 11, No. 11 – 08 May 2010


(1) Appeal Upheld in 8th-grade Algebra I Litigation

Sources: Association of California School Administrators (ACSA); California School Boards Association (CSBA)

Last week the California Third District Court of Appeal upheld the preliminary injunction that was placed on the California State Board of Education (SBE) in 2008 in a case concerning the SBE’s mandate that all 8th-graders take the Algebra I California Standards Test (CST). (See for more on the initial ruling in December 2008.) This action means that SBE may not act on its mandate that all 8th graders take only the Algebra I CST. The Appellate Court did not rule on the question of the State Board’s general authority but rendered the entire action (taken in July 2008) as “null and void” because the State Board violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, which requires a 10-day public notice of any intended action.

The original case was filed by the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), the California School Boards Association (CSBA), the Superintendent of Public Instruction (Jack O’Connell), and the California Teachers Association (CTA).

The SBE appeal cost $500,000 in state funds to defend what the Board considers its authority to mandate one test and de facto courses. ACSA has long argued that it is the Legislature, not the State Board, that determines course requirements; Algebra I is currently a high school graduation requirement and not an 8th-grade requirement.

“We are pleased by the judges’ ruling recognizing the legal consequences for the SBE’s violation of the open meeting laws,” said CSBA President Frank Pugh, “but it’s unfortunate that the SBE chose to spend further time and resources on this appeal, especially given the board’s concession that it had violated the open meeting law.”

The lawsuit addressed SBE’s failure to adequately inform the public that it was contemplating such a fundamental change in state policy. Prior to making its decision, the SBE didn’t provide the public with an opportunity to express the significant ramification this revised policy would have on all aspects of the education system. These concerns include the teacher credentialing process, allocation of instructional time, professional development, instructional materials and areas in which existing K-7 math standards must be strengthened.

“The appellate court acknowledged that a significant reallocation of resources would be needed in order to make the systemic changes necessary to prepare eighth graders to be successful in Algebra I,” said CSBA Executive Director Scott P. Plotkin.

CSBA has long called on the SBE to engage in a conversation about the state’s academic content standards. The need for this conversation became even more urgent with the passage of SBX5 1 in January, which established a new state standards commission.  The law requires this commission to develop content standards in math and language arts based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), present its findings to the SBE in July, and for the SBE to accept or reject the proposed standards by August 2 of this year. (These deadlines have been viewed with skepticism by many since, to date, no appointments to the Academic Content Standards Commission have been made, and the final version of the CCSS has yet to be released. See for the current draft version of the CCSS, which does not include Algebra I at the 8th-grade level.)


(2) California Plans to Participate in Phase 2 of the Race to the Top Competition

URL (Gov.):

On April 30, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator Gloria Romero issued the following statement announcing California’s intent to apply for Phase 2 of Race to the Top federal education funding:

“I commend President Obama’s commitment to education reform that puts children first. After careful review and consideration, California will apply for phase two of the competitive Recovery Act program Race to the Top. We will continue to fight for statewide education reforms that guarantee that we put our students’ needs first, support effective teachers and ensure that all students have equal access to a quality education.”

“Education is about what is possible to achieve the American Dream,” said Senator Gloria Romero, Chair of the Senate Education Committee and leading author of education reform legislation.  “California will continue to fight the good fight in the best interest of our children by providing historic rights for parents and an unwavering commitment to demand excellence of our public education system for every child.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell, added, “California remains focused on finding ways to more effectively prepare all students for success in college and careers. In Phase 2 of the Race to the Top competition, we will work with key districts and their communities that are committed to implement systemic changes that produce results for students locally, and use their success and focus on continuous improvement to inform our statewide plan. Through the Race to the Top, we will foster access to effective teachers for all students, the use of data to support instruction, adoption of common core state standards, and the development of aligned assessments.

“At stake is as much as $700 million in federal funds to propel these key education reforms. It will take an intensive and creative effort to meet the time frame before us. This is an important opportunity to improve our ability to close the achievement gap and prepare all students for success in the competitive global economy. In that spirit and with the assurances of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that our application would receive due consideration, we will try again.”

After the Governor’s announcement, the following letter was sent from Jack O’Connell, Ted Mitchell (President of the California State Board of Education), and Bonnie Reiss (Governor Schwarzenegger’s Secretary of Education) to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators:

“On April 30, we announced that California will participate in Phase 2 of the federal Race to the Top (RTTT). For this new plan, we have asked six district superintendents to lead a working group to develop a detailed reform plan that we believe will make our application significantly more competitive. These districts (Clovis Unified, Fresno Unified, Long Beach Unified, Los Angeles Unified, San Francisco Unified, and Sanger Unified) have all committed to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

“Through the plan articulated in our application, California will continue to implement critically needed reforms to improve student achievement and more effectively prepare all students for success in college or careers. We hope to stimulate this long-term effort by building on the efforts of these key districts that have committed to work with the State on developing and implementing strategies needed to make systemic changes at the local and statewide level that lead to more effective teaching and learning with a focus on continuous improvement.

“For those of you that signed on to our first round application, we want to thank you again for taking the bold step to join the state’s RTTT application in the first round of this competition. We appreciate that your decision to participate in RTTT was a thoughtful one reached after many conversations with stakeholders. We hope that you will also take the step of committing to all of the reforms in the new MOU. We anticipate an MOU will be ready for review in mid-May. At stake is as much as $700 million in federal dollars which will propel key education reforms. The RTTT Phase 2 application is due June 1, 2010. We realize it will take an intensive and creative effort to meet this very tight time frame. However, California is up for the challenge and we will not forsake any opportunity to improve our students’ future. In that spirit and with the assurances of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that our application would receive due consideration, we will continue our RTTT work.

“If you have questions regarding California’s participation in RTTT Phase 2, the State’s application, or other matters related to RTTT, please contact us by e-mail at

“We remain committed to working with you in this effort towards improving student achievement for all.”


(3) Bill Designed to Give Districts More Flexibility in Staffing Decisions Passes Senate Education Committee

Source: State Senator Bob Huff; United Teachers Los Angeles
URL (Huff):

On April 21, Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) announced that Senate Bill 955, sponsored by Governor Schwarzenegger and designed to give school districts more flexibility and control over local staffing decisions, was approved by the Senate Education Committee.

“Schools are struggling to provide core services to students this year,” said Senator Huff. “Now is not the time for the Legislature to micromanage every decision they make at a local level.”

SB 955 would give more authority to school districts to make staffing decisions by allowing them to deviate from seniority laws and instead base staff placement on teacher performance and program needs. Under current law, the layoff, transfer, assignment, reassignment and reappointment of teachers must occur strictly on the basis of seniority.

“Schools should be able to decide which teachers will best serve our students. Hiring and firing decisions should not be based on an arbitrary last in last out policy,” said Senator Huff. “Our education system creates a quality-blind system when it comes to staffing decisions, and that’s not in the best interest of the kids.”

After the Senate Education Committee passed SB 955, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued the following statement (

“I applaud the Senate Education Committee for standing up for the civil rights of all California students today. This legislation will play a vital role in ensuring that every California classroom, regardless of zip code, will be filled with talented and effective teachers that can help change the lives of countless students. I urge all legislators to put their support behind California’s children and this bill and send it to my desk for my signature.”

SB 955 would also eliminate the March 15 deadline for notifying teachers of layoffs. “The current notification process is incredibly stressful for teachers and unnecessary since many of them will not be laid off,” said Huff.

Additionally, SB 955 would streamline the dismissal process for school staff. Local school districts have little authority over who works with the students they serve. Under current law, the decision of the Commission on Professional Competence is deemed to be the final decision of the governing board with regard to the termination of certificated staff. SB 955 would streamline this process by giving ultimate dismissal authority to school district governing boards.


SB 955 was amended on April 28 and, according to the United Teachers Los Angeles, “Due to major concerns about the impact SB 955 would have on teachers and schools, as well as a high level of pressure from UTLA members and other education constituents, on April 29, State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg pulled SB 955 back to the Senate Rule Committee for further review with education stakeholders.” Current progress and bill wording can be found at

To view a list of supporters and opponents of SB 955, visit  Supporters include the California Charter Schools Association, California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, Ed Voice, The Education Trust-West, and two dozen other supporters. Six unions oppose the bill, including the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association.


See for a related report.


(4) State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Announces Second Phase of Digital Textbook Initiative–New Mathematics and Science Digital Textbooks are Available

Source: California Department of Education

On April 30, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced a new milestone in California’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative with the successful completion of the second phase review of digital textbooks by the California Learning Resources Network (CLRN), yielding 10 new digital resources.

I applaud the completion of the second phase of this initiative,” said O’Connell. “In these dire economic times, the expansion of standards-aligned digital textbooks provides more free resources to schools.”

The Free Digital Textbook Initiative was launched last year by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger with the support of the State Board of Education (SBE). After a review by CLRN to evaluate the digital textbooks’ alignment to California’s content standards, 16 free digital resources for grades nine through twelve were made available to California public schools.

The goal in phase two was to add to the list of basic student digital instructional resources that are intended as the primary resource for a course of study. The second review has successfully added new mathematics and science digital textbooks to the existing list of free digital resources for grades nine through twelve. There are two more phases of reviews.

The mathematics materials had to align to the standards in geometry, Algebra II, trigonometry, or calculus. The science materials had to align to the standards for physics, chemistry, biology/life sciences, or earth sciences, including the investigation and experimentation strand. (The standards for mathematics and science are available on the California Department of Education (CDE) Content Standards Web page at

These materials were reviewed by California teachers and experts in mathematics and science under the guidance of the CDE, the Office of the Secretary of Education, the SBE, and the CLRN. Review results are currently posted on CLRN’s Web site at

For questions regarding the Free Digital Textbook Initiative review process, please contact Tom Adams, Director of the CDE Standards, Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division, at 916-319-0881. For questions about electronic materials, contact CDE’s Education Technology Office Administrator Cliff Rudnick at 916-323-5072. For questions regarding submitting digital textbooks for review, contact CLRN’s Brian Bridges at 209-238-1420.