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California has brought you pop culture mainstays like Lauren Conrad, gangster rap, and the Black Eyed Peas. When it comes to education, what happens in California is just as influential, and it's probably coming to a school near you. Not only does California crush the competition with the sheer immensity of its education system—almost 10,000 schools, 293,000 teachers, and over 6 million K-12 students—some of the most innovative and downright controversial education reform happenings go down first in the Golden State. Here are four of the biggest from 2010 that we predict will impact your local education system in 2011.
In August, The Los Angeles Times dropped the education equivalent of a nuclear bomb with the release of a searchable “value added data” teacher rankings database. Over 6,000 elementary teachers received grades ranging from most to least effective according to their ability to boost students’ math and English standardized test scores. In the aftermath, one teacher committed suicide and the United Teachers of Los Angeles called for a boycott of the Times. Despite concern that the data may be flawed, media outlets and concerned citizens across the nation are asking their local school districts to release the names of teachers and the test scores of their students.
In an effort to boost the state’s federal Race to the Top eligibility, California legislators passed a law empowering parents to take over their local academically underperforming school. Led by organizing group Parent Revolution, a group of parents from Compton’s McKinley Avenue Elementary collected enough signatures to take charge of the school and turn it into a charter. The state plans to investigate allegations of intimidation and misconduct, which means lawsuits are sure to be on the horizon, but we predict that laws putting parents in a position to shake up their child's school leadership will be popping up nationwide.
Budget cuts have hit California hard—over $2 billion slashed in 2010 alone. That meant layoffs of more than 30,000 teachers and school personnel, including librarians, custodial staff, and office staff. Also cut? Art, music, sports, foreign language programs, and advanced placement classes. Now California's schools rank at the very bottom of all 50 states in staff-to-student ratios and are near the bottom in per-pupil spending. Community protests over the cuts are on the rise, and since more slashing is on the horizon for next year, expect more scenes of angry students running onto freeways. In 2011, can California's protesters inspire other communities to not accept the defunding of public education?
School gardens are great, but how about taking it to the next level and making an entire school an academically-rigorous, ecologically-sustainable campus? Environmental Charter High School, located in Lawndale, California, did just that, and even got props from the President for their accomplishments. With a "Green Ambassadors" program, an environmental science curriculum, project-based learning and top-notch test scores, ECHS ranks in the top 3 percent of high schools nationwide. As the urge to teach students how to be environmentally responsible grows, ECHS is sure to provide a model for other schools looking to be 100 percent sustainable.